What do you think of when you hear the word “apprentice” or “apprenticeship”? Do you picture a medieval teenager (let’s face it — probably male) working and learning a trade in a blacksmith’s shop? Or do you see an apprenticeship as a viable career option when you’re just starting out in a new-to-you field today — and not 500 years ago?
Apprenticeships, now and then
In the past, a master tradesman or craftsman would take an apprentice under their wing and teach that apprentice their trade. Sometimes this would simply be a prolonged exercise in practical experience, but it wasn’t uncommon for an apprentice to be indentured in some way (meaning legally bound to serve the master until the end of the apprenticeship). At the end of the apprenticeship, the apprentice emerges with all the skills necessary to continue working in that trade. They don’t come out as masters, but they’re well on their way.
While there’s a bit of a dusty perception surrounding this form of work-learning, apprenticeships never quite went away. And while apprenticeships look pretty different these days, the original spirit is still present. They’re still used often by people who want to learn a particular trade — like electricians and welders — but apprenticeships are also relevant for other, less “manual,” trades — including web design.
One thing to note: often internships are disguised as apprenticeships. While a great internship might share a lot of characteristics with a great apprenticeship, internships are much more likely to go uncompensated.
What would a web design apprentice do?
While there’s no universal syllabus on conducting an apprenticeship, the general idea is that you’re working closely with a designer or team of designers. You may be working as an assistant to the main designer, or you might be given your own projects (to be monitored closely by the person you’re studying under).
Some apprenticeships are formal programs with applications, specific skill-building exercises, and official start and end dates. Others are much more casual and free-flowing. You may agree to work for a specific number of hours per week over the course of a specified timeframe, or you might agree to apprentice for a set number of projects. Some apprentices receive credit, while others are simply waving the agency banner as a team member. (No matter what you agree to, get it in writing!)
As for what you’ll learn, that depends on the depth and length of the apprenticeship. It may be as organic as apprenticing from a fellow designer simply to learn how to use a particular software or to get an eye for the latest best design practices. But if you find a really robust apprenticeship opportunity, you may be covering everything from XHTML and CSS, to project management and client interaction, to image acquisition and SEO. Coming out the other side, you’d be a well-rounded web designer with all the skills you need to be successful.
Apprenticeships span the gamut — it’s all about what opportunity you want to pursue.
Should I be a web design apprentice?
There are a lot of benefits to becoming a design apprentice. One of the most significant benefits of a modern-day apprenticeship is that they often take place within the work environment, meaning you have the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of web design while earning a paycheck. And agency work isn’t the only opportunity — studying as an apprentice under a highly skilled freelance web designer might not garner you top-tier freelance rates, but you’ll often be entitled to compensation.
Apprenticeships are commonly thought to be something entry-level, so if you’re at the beginning of your web design career, an apprenticeship might be particularly attractive for you. They aren’t just limited to beginners, though — there’s always more to learn. Higher-level apprenticeships are available for web designers who already have the foundational skill set they need and who want to take their skills (and business) to the next level.
The benefits of apprenticeships are significant, but only if it’s the right apprenticeship for you, at the right time. If you do it the right way, you’ll come out of your apprenticeship with a boatload of new, valuable skills, as well as a good sense of what exactly that job entails. For some people, that’s invaluable; for others, it’s not the right path.
How do I find a web design apprenticeship?
There’s no one go-to resource for finding apprenticeships. That said, apprentice.io has its own apprenticeship program, and other institutions like General Assembly and Fresh Tilled Soil are beginning to offer apprenticeship programs. You may be able find apprenticeships on job boards like SimplyHired and Indeed, and definitely check your favorite design forums to see if you can churn up anything. Apprenticeships are also fairly popular in the UK, so if you’re interested in going abroad for some training, a few targeted Google searches will get you on the right track.
Would you ever consider being a design apprentice? How might that have changed your career in the beginning — or how might it serve you as you approach the next level?