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Apprenticeship: How to secure your business legacy

By Enterprise Reporter | October 27th 2021
Engineer training apprentices on CNC machine [Courtesy]

Apprenticeship – this old art for business continuity seems to be lost.

For most successful businesses across the world, one-on-one teaching has ensured that they’ve survived for generations.

In Kenya, there’s been rising concern about the graduates hitting the job market with firms having to spend millions to reskill them.

Enterprise examines how apprenticeship can be used to secure a business legacy.

What is a modern apprenticeship?

Global consultancy firm McKinsey observes that apprenticeship is a relationship-driven learning model, based on actual day-to-day work and whereby a novice gains hands-on knowledge from an expert to grow skills and act with increasing independence.

“In the classic one-on-one model of apprenticeship, the learning happens as a result of physical proximity and observation. Experience has historically been equated with longevity, putting the responsibility to become the teachers on those with more seniority.

“This iterative learning approach allowed novices to learn through close observation, practice, feedback, and coaching, all of which are quite effective for building deep expertise and skill mastery,” notes the global consultancy giant.

Kenyan context

In the Kenyan context, the late billionaire industrialist Chris Kirubi, perhaps, offers the best example of how apprenticeship can be used to secure a business legacy.

For instance, take Centum Chief Executive James Mworia, one of his greatest students.

Mworia started out at Centum aged 23 as an intern and now ranks as one of the highest-paid executives in corporate Kenya taking home Sh45 million in 2020.

In a span of seven years, he quickly rose through the ranks to become CEO and is credited for growing Centum from a Sh6 billion-asset firm to over Sh30 billion and now managing over Sh140 billion third party funds.

During Mworia’s formative period, Kirubi was the Centum Board chair serving between 2003 – 2009 and before his passing was the chairman Finance and Investment Committee.

In an interview in June when Kirubi died, Mworia recalled steady mentorship and face-to-face learning that Kirubi used to impart.

Mworia explained that his businesses had clearly defined strategic plans based on the long term.

For example in Centum, one of his crown jewels, he had carefully handpicked his board successors and managers.

“He did not want to be tied to one business, that’s why for him it was natural to want to have governance structures that kept him independent of operations of the businesses.”

“From an execution perspective, nothing really changes and continues to engage investors. His family remains a major shareholder in Centum and the operations of the company will carry on.”

The pandemic has caused skills gaps

According to global consulting firm McKinsey, firms need to revive the art of apprenticeship so as to unlock continuous skill development.

With skill gaps occasioned by the pandemic, skills gaps need filling and formal learning alone isn’t enough.

“The pressure for businesses to develop and reskill their employees, however, continues to increase. As businesses emerge from the pandemic, more than 80 per cent of them face critical gaps in the skills needed to build resilience amid ongoing uncertainty.”

“Learning and development will continue to play a crucial role in keeping pace with change, but only 42 per cent of employees are taking up employer-supported reskilling and upskilling opportunities in their organizations,” said Mckinsey.

Millennials in the workplace

This year, the millennial, (a person typically born between 1981 and 1996 as per the American definition), turned 40 years with a majority now adults.

This is the generation of business leaders and are estimated to account for 50 per cent of the global workforce by last year.

Selwood Consultants Executive Director Gabriel Kariuki, a veteran HR professional, observed that firms needed to adjust their policies to accommodate them.

“You need a workplace policy that accommodates their interests if you are to keep them. Such include flexibility, relaxed dress code, social media flexibility, availability of wifi, among others,” said the veteran recruiter and HR professional, observing that it might take more than good pay to keep them.

Here comes the apprenticeship factor notes Kariuki adding that the new generations have the energy and capacity to work if properly nurtured.

However, they have challenges in terms of attention to detail, consistency and taking life extremely seriously.

“Whereas their uptake of professional advice from the older generation is low, they are technologically savvy and curious to know how to do things better, using less time and fewer resources. The key thing is to understand them, train them and if possible, drill them accordingly on professional practices. They also need a change of mindset that the older generation is not all that outdated!”

Apprenticeship knits a firm together

In the old days, apprenticeship involved learning from a single expert. However nowadays, this is impossible owing to the complexity of the modern workplace, notes McKinsey.

“Individuals will likely have many apprenticeship relationships over the course of their careers. For leaders charged with overseeing learning, the impermanence of modern apprenticeship puts a premium on knowing the specific skills employees need to build and giving them access to a multiplicity of experts from whom they can learn.”

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