By: Wayne Clark
How do you learn a trade? In some cases it starts with post-secondary education. In other cases, the education is on-the-job training or apprenticing. As a society we have tended to neglect apprenticeships and related forms of training, at least in the so-called “white collar” careers. We forget that there was a time when lawyers and doctors were trained by apprenticing to experienced practitioners. They still are, by the way: law clerks and resident physicians are actually apprentices.
In public relations and communication we have a hybrid approach. The education is important because you need the theoretical grounding. Yet the only way to learn how to apply theory and do the work of communicating in the real world is to, well, do it in the real world. At WordLab, we are taking energetic and enthusiastic college-educated people and immersing them in the world of applied work. No academic program, no matter how good, can teach you how to go out and get work, how to handle an irascible client, or how to deal with the ups and downs of business.
Teaching and training are by their nature a way of “giving back.” We take what we have learned, both in classrooms and in the field, and pass it along. I have taught at the undergraduate and graduate levels as adjunct faculty, passing along years of hard-won knowledge. And so it is in this new phase of my career, as my colleagues and I give our apprentices the ability to think and reason through real problems, to look both inward and outward for success.
The world has rough edges. We are helping our apprentices see them and hopefully avoid getting snagged, or at least understand how to recover when they inevitably get roughed up.
Our work is very much like that of a journeyman plumber or electrician training an apprentice. First you show them how it’s done, then you have them do it while you watch. Eventually, they’re ready to work independently. Along the way, they learn the nitty gritty of how the business works. The new apprentice electrician is going to spend a lot of time pulling cable before he or she wires a main breaker panel, but they will understand how everything fits together.
I love teaching and I love working with apprentices for a selfish reason as well: I learn. My students and apprentices are constantly teaching me, leading me to ideas I hadn’t considered, to resources I didn’t know existed. So too, the job itself is teaching me. I spent my career in corporate communications, where there is always too much work. Now that I’m on the agency side, I’m learning how to go out and get business.
For a lifelong learner, that’s good. It’s all very, very good.