During most of my broadcasting career, part of my job was to mentor new part-time employees. To teach and demonstrate the numerous skills and techniques to young people felt very rewarding. After an employee’s probationary period and training was complete she or he officially graduated from being an apprentice to being a peer.
Strengthening of skills and initiation into the workplace culture resulted in the mentor-protégé relationship evolving beyond teacher-student into mutual respect.
The mentor-protégé relationship can be the beginning of a life-long bond that extends beyond the workplace. At least this has frequently been true in my personal experience. Most of the former part-timers eventually moved on to other employers or careers. Several of them have kept in touch and remain as friends.
After retirement, as I reflect upon the many people who have had short apprenticeships under my supervision, I realize how much I miss those types of relationships. Perhaps young people still approach me for advice, consolation, and some measure of friendship because they pick up on my love of mentoring. At least I like to think so.
Many people who apprentice in one type of work do not choose the apprenticed job as their careers. However, they do take their learned skills and apply them in ways that benefit them in their new, chosen careers. In my own case, I apprenticed under the close instruction of a grocer. For several years, I thought that retail food sales would be the best career path.
I genuinely enjoyed working as produce department manager and the eventual promotion to frozen foods manager. My direct mentor was a kind, almost elderly man by the name of Ollie. He was manager of the main, non-perishable department of the supermarket. He was the former owner-manager of his own small grocery store. Ollie dissolved his business after a large, national supermarket chain moved into town and out-competed him for customers. Ollie’s experience as an entrepreneur made him an ideal choice as a mentor.
An equally valuable aspect of working in a small town supermarket was that our responsibilities spilled over into general store chores. Aside from managing and stocking frozen foods, I was expected to help stock canned goods shelves on slow days. During busy weekends, I either ran a cash register or bagged customers’ orders. Sometimes I helped customers load their cars because the store offered “carry out” service. All of these skills had been taught by more experienced fellow employees as part of my apprenticeship. The coordination of the training was under Ollie’s direction.
One of the most valuable skills to hone was that of presenting a friendly, warm manner when dealing with the public. In fact, customer relations was a major skill that was useful after I left the grocery business. Customer relations skills were integral to my work in broadcasting. Furthermore, the experience of ordering and displaying perishable fruits and vegetables as the produce manager translated into better understanding the fickle tastes of music consumers. I adapted this skill to good use as music director of three radio stations.
Understanding the benefits of being a protégé probably helped in my roles as mentor, later on. In fact, being both protégé and a teacher taught me that being open to learning new skills and studying unfamiliar topics. The pragmatic curiosity and eagerness of apprenticeship are qualities worth retaining throughout life.
The world is our mentor and we are the apprentices.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the late, great guitarist, Chet Atkins. “A long apprenticeship is the most logical way to success. The only alternative is overnight stardom, but I can’t give you a formula for that.”