Apprenticeships, internships, and real-life job experience
Learning by doing
Classroom learning is great, but it’s not enough. Most of us need some real-life experience on the job to really learn a career. We need to learn from people who have actually been in the trenches. We need to learn how they think and how they operate. We need to learn from their mistakes and from our own mistakes. We need to be coached by workers who know the ropes. We need to see what everyday life in this job is like. And we need to see if this career choice is a good fit for us.
“You don't learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” —Richard Branson
Beyond the classroom
Think back on the last time you tried to learn a new job. Maybe you started by reading a manual or going to a class. But, if you’re like most people, that probably wasn’t enough. Research shows that 70% of what we need to know to perform a job well we learn from informal sources—talking with people who do the job well, customer interactions, trial and error, and real-time feedback.
Easing in—Getting used to the civilian work culture
If most of your work experience has been in the military, the civilian workplace might take a little getting used to. Compared to the military, the roles and chain of command might not be as clear in the civilian workforce. Things might feel chaotic at times. You might feel like you don’t know what the mission is—what success looks like. An apprenticeship or an internship can be an opportunity to ease in. If you are struggling with this transition, other veterans are your best source of support. Some employers have employee resource groups (ERGs) for veterans that can help you connect.
Your choices about discussing or disclosing a disability
If you decide to do an apprenticeship or internship, what, if anything, would you like to tell an employer about your disability? If your disability is obvious to others, do you want to discuss your disability with the employer? Or, if your disability isn’t obvious, do you want to disclose it? This decision depends on a few questions: How do you feel about your disability? Do you need an accommodation? And, do you trust this employer enough to tell them?
Remember these three points:
- If you need an accommodation, you may need to make a limited disclosure of what you need to be productive and that may include information about your disability. But this information will not be shared with co-workers.
- You don’t need to make a final decision now. You can decide to tell or disclose at any time during your work-based learning experience.
- Talk with your career counselor or veteran coordinator about your disclosure decision. Make sure they know your wishes.
Do you need an accommodation?
You have a right to a job accommodation during your apprenticeship/internship. Discuss your accommodation needs with your counselor and/or coordinator. Do you know whether you will need an accommodation? Or maybe you’re not sure yet and need to see what the work is like. In either case, think through some accommodation options given your disability and the work you’ll be doing. Visit the Veterans page of the Job Accommodation Network to get some ideas. Also, think through how you will get this accommodation. What role, if any, would you like your counselor or coordinator to play in helping you get an accommodation?
During your apprenticeship/internship, make an effort to reach out to others. Be curious about their work and how they do their jobs. Try to learn the names and roles of people you meet. Ask questions. When appropriate, take part in meetings and social gatherings. This may come easily for you or you may have to push yourself. At first, focus on one or two people who you’re most comfortable with. Then expand your circle. Whatever you do to connect will help. These connections can help you feel more confident in the job, give you valuable advice about working in this career, teach you practical tips that can help you do the job better, and point you toward the best job openings. And, who knows…you might also find a new friend.
Beyond facts and tasks
In the past, apprenticeships and internships were to teach routine sets of tasks. Today, however, much of our work is not so much routine tasks, but problem solving. So, during your work-based learning experience, pay as much attention to what people around you are thinking as what they’re doing. When appropriate, ask them to “think out loud” as they go through their workday. Ask a few quick questions. What’s the overall purpose of a job task? Why is it being done in a particular way? Are there other ways to do it? What were they thinking as they made decisions during their workday?
Consider keeping a learning journal
When you start an apprenticeship/internship, you might quickly get hit with a lot of new faces, ideas, and information. Keeping a learning journal can help you to capture important points that will be valuable as you move forward in your career. Your learning journal doesn’t have to be polished or formal. It can be as simple as carrying a little notebook and pencil in your pocket to jot down ideas or names as you go through your day. Or it can be more structured and high-tech. Find a way to keep your learning journal that works for you.
 Carliner, S. (2012, August 20). Extracurricular activities—Essential informal learning for any degree program. Association for Talent Development (ATD).