Apprenticeship Program

Solving Problems, Building The Future

Problem 1: Most free and paid UX internships and apprenticeships require previous work experience (often a year, sometimes more), a uni degree in a UX-related topic like HCI, or college coursework towards a degree. Companies want slightly experienced CX/UX practitioners to call them interns/apprentices so they can pay them less than a junior job (or pay them nothing). This immediately kills diversity and inclusion. It only includes people who had time and money for university. You’re missing out on some great talent who didn’t want to go to uni, didn’t have time, or couldn’t afford it.

Problem 2: Most bootcamps, programs, and even uni programs aren’t making people job-ready.

Problem 3: There are tens of thousands of people out there looking for their first junior CX/UX job. Since so many aren’t job-ready, companies adjusted for that by requiring that juniors already have 1+ years of experience. That’s the paradox: how do you get your first job when you can’t get your first job?

Problem 4: There are unfortunate voices out there saying that we should just give newbies “production designer” jobs, where they assist seniors and take grunt work off their plates.

  • “Drowning in grunt work I wish I could give an assistant” isn’t a common problem for seniors and higher.
  • Very few up-and-coming CX/UX practitioners want to do production or grunt work. They want to do real work.
  • If we give newbies production or grunt work, what will they put in their portfolio? “The senior made these tablet wireframes in portrait mode, and I made these derivatives in landscape.” That doesn’t level anybody up and help them get their next job.
  • Production work is often an order-taker job. CX/UX work focuses on problem-finding and problem-solving, and is far from order taking. Taking orders isn’t a stepping stone to being a critical thinker, deductive reasoner, and Low Ego Action Hero.

There are many talented and high-potential people out there who haven’t started or done a uni degree, have no work experience, don’t want to do production work, and are being ignored.

Who will be our Senior CX/UX practitioners in 5 years?

Choosing Candidates

When we run Delta CX apprenticeship cohorts, we find everybody from our Delta CX Slack workspace. We don’t look at the resume/CV or portfolio. We don’t care if or where they went to school or which certificate(s) they had. 

What qualities are we looking for?

We wanted them to have some CX/UX education so that we weren’t starting at zero. We chose them by personality, looking for:

  • Low Ego Action Heroes who were open to being coached.
  • Resilience to not take things personally or badly if they messed something up or had room for improvement.
  • Kindness and heart.
  • Intelligence.
  • Raw talent.
  • Curious researchers at heart who were likely to Google the easy questions and ask me the hard questions.
  • People who weren’t looking for the fastest, easiest way into CX/UX.
  • People who really wanted to understand and apply principles of UCD and HCD.
  • People who didn’t believe in “UX shortcuts,” fake UX, or pseudo-micro derivatives like design thinking, design sprints, and Lean UX.
  • People looking to really push themselves on a complex project and probably go out of their comfort zone. Chances are their bootcamp did not have them working on a B2B SaaS. 🙂
  • People who expected to have a UX job by now, but found they were in the Grand Canyon between finishing a program/self study/online courses and being job-ready.

You interviewed everybody. That doesn’t scale. What if we have 500 or 10,000 applications?

First of all, close applications after 500 or whatever number you want to stop at. You can create a limit!

A standardized corporate assessment test that’s supposed to look for all of these qualities in people could miss great people. A cognitive test can’t find the same things you will learn from talking to people. Don’t weed people in or out from cognitive or logic exams. Also, not everybody takes tests well.

Give people a simple online application. Don’t make them write essays and essays and essays. Do you have time to read all those essays? Is that fair to candidates? Then don’t do it. We care about the candidate experience.

Remembering that we are looking for people stuck between education (bootcamp, self study, etc) and qualifying for a first job. You might weed people out for two main reasons.

  1. Exclude anybody who has already had their first CX/UX job. No matter what the title was, if they had a job, that will help them get their next job.
  2. Exclude anybody who should qualify for an entry level job, ie: someone with 1+ years of real work experience. This might include anybody who has been freelancing.

Now let’s make a human connection.

If you can’t interview everybody who seems interesting and wasn’t weeded out, perhaps have candidates sending in a short video or audio talking about themselves, why they want to get into CX/UX, etc. VideoAsk might be a good tool for that (#notsponsored).

Ask for a 2 minute video from the people who are left. This does not replace an interview. This helps you create the short list. Perhaps you ask candidates to record themselves talking about the most interesting aspect of CX/UX that they’ve learned so far. Or something that surprised them about CX/UX work. Now it’s speed dating time. As these videos play, you might not make it past 15 seconds for some of them. Move on if you have set out clear standards and they don’t meet them.

Even if you have 400 videos to watch, and even if you watched all 2 minutes of each, this is maybe 15 hours of work. The person or people leading your apprenticeship program can narrow 400 people way down in just 3 days, maybe less.

Giving Apprentices Time and Coaching

Part of coaching apprentices is staying on top of what they’re doing to help them keep leveling up. Here is our suggested schedule:

  • 60 min 1:1 with each apprentice 2 times a week. 2 hours total for them individually. This could be Tuesday and Friday.
  • 60 min team/peer meetings 2 times a week. Maybe one of these meetings is apprentices only, and one meeting has the Lead/mentor/coach to help. Let’s say we have 4 IA/IxDs on one team. They could each have 15 min to show their work (twice a week) and get peers’ suggestions or brainstorming. This could be Monday and Thursday.
  • 60 min “Apprentice School” each week. This could be live or it could be video courses that you require everybody to view. These could be taught by your team, taught by outside experts you bring in, videos from our YouTube channel, or anything else that is high quality content.

Outside of “normal” work and other meetings like project planning, this would mean that each apprentice spends 5 hours per week in meetings related to the program.

Warning: 

We see too many companies clumping a group of interns together and giving them a project. They guess and stab mostly alone. Someone looks at them for a half hour every week, often telling them they’re doing great. At the end of the term, they present their wacky ideas, and are usually let go. 

This doesn’t makes sense, especially in an industry where most of us agree you learn by doing, and expert coaching is invaluable to learning the right things the right ways from the right people. Let’s not do this with our apprenticeship program (and let’s not do this with internships either).

Your Lead is the center of this program.

They will probably be selecting who gets into the program. They will decide what they teach, how, and when. They will create standards and review work. This highlights the need for you to hire or have a highly-qualified Lead with at least 6 years of experience in CX/UX Architecture and/or Research.

If 4 apprentices need 2 hours each weekly plus an hour for the apprentice team meeting plus an hour for Apprentice School, then that’s 10 hours of your Lead’s time each week for an apprentice team of 4 people. A 40-hour week minus a meal and breaks becomes a 30-hour week. Allocate 35% of that worker’s time to the program. The other 65% can be to projects. 

What if we don’t have Lead/Principal CX/UX staff to oversee apprentices?

Delta CX offers Fractional CX Leadership. We can quote you on a package where our expert mentors can oversee your apprentice team for a certain number of hours per week. We can assign as many coaches as you need for the number of weekly hours we agree on. It will cost a little more than a full time Lead position might cost you, but we’re available! Contact us for a free proposal.

What Does This Cost?

Let’s say your Lead makes $120,000 USD per year. Let’s say your apprentices each make around $35,000 USD per year ($16.83/hr before taxes are taken out). Thinking of the USA, let’s add 30% on those numbers for perks, benefits, and other costs companies incur for salaried employees. So that’s $156K and $45.5K respectively.

4 apprentices cost you approximately $182K per year in their salaries (4 x $45.5K). 35% of 1 Lead’s time = approximately $55K per year. Now we’re around $237K in human-power for one team for one year.

If you wanted someone from Delta CX to be your Fractional CX/UX Lead and devote 10 hours per week to a 4-person apprentice team, that’s $78K per year (corp to corp, $150 USD per hour). Add this to $182K in 4 apprentice salaries and that’s an annual budget of $260K.

Later on this page, I’ll examine the many reasons why this is financially worth it. There are many ways for this to pay off. Additionally, companies don’t always calculate the effects of improving CX/UX, but they should. Then things like this would be less of a mystery. It would be clearer what bringing on an apprentice team could improve at your company.

But Debbie, people aren’t loyal. They will get trained and quit!

If your workplace sucks, you’re right. People will seem disloyal, quitting as soon as they can. If people are flight risks or are quitting, or if your CX/UX department tends to have a CXodus, then you need to make improvements to what’s going on at your company. A great apprenticeship program can help attract people, but it can’t keep them for long if working there sucks. You’ll probably want to check out our Delta CX training program for HR, recruiters, and hiring managers. It teaches how to improve our department, teams, and jobs.

Don’t try to lock people into staying at your company with a work contract that keeps them there. That’s not legal in some places as it can be seen as “indentured servitude.” It’s better to retain people by having great jobs at a great workplace versus trying to contractually force them to stay there.

Yes, that means you’re going to have to improve jobs, culture, and working conditions there so that you are more likely to retain people. Happy people want to stay. Create the job where people want to stay.

Advantages for Your Company

If you care about people and the strengthening of the CX/UX profession, then maybe you’re not asking how your apprenticeship program makes money. You allocate 35% of your Lead’s time for each group of 4 apprentices, and you just do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Most of the advantages of an apprenticeship program can’t be directly put in a spreadsheet and turned into math. How about the advantages and value of:

Diversity, Equality, Inclusion

This program isn’t just for those who had time and money for college. This is for anybody who shows the right talent, promise, and personality. This program will also bring diversity of age (since you’ll have more career changers), diversity of background (since you’ll have people who previously worked in interesting domains), and – especially if you’re open to remote – diversity across ethnicities, perspectives, and disabilities. 

Passing the Torch

Many seniors and Leads love working with juniors. They find it rewarding. Coachable juniors who are open to feedback and tough love will probably be grateful their whole lives to the chance they got at your company. Which means…

Positive Word of Mouth

People will actually say at least some nice things about working at your company. You might even find people fighting to get those jobs. Be the place people want to work at, not just out of desperation, and not for the minimum time they think they need to for it to not look weird on their resume/CV.

Attract Fresh Talent

Many companies claim to want “fresh” talent. Often, this whispers at ageism because it semi-secretly means “young.” But there are many people of varying ages starting now in CX and UX. They are fresh! Find the dedicated ones who show some skill and promise, the right personalities, and give them a chance.

Create Career Paths

An apprenticeship program is the start of a potential career at your company. Hire the strong apprentices into junior jobs. Keep that knowledge in your company. Save on recruiting. Improve morale.

Also, many Lead-level people want a path to being a Manager. Running an apprentice program, helping people level up, coordinating a team’s work, and semi-managing them provides a path for Leads to be promoted to Managers.

Apprentices Can Find and Fix Problems

Apprentices can research and architect new products and features. But for faster ROI measurements, what if the apprentice team fixed problems that are burning customer support time, hurting customer trust, and bleeding customers? They can research, architect, built, test, and iterate on important fixes to the products and services.

The ROI of High Performers

Companies always want high performers. What if you find apprentices who are high performers? What is the ROI of that? We need to find better ways to measure good and bad work performance in CX/UX jobs.

PR Opportunity

Some companies spin their internships and apprenticeships into PR opportunities, showcasing how they welcome and develop up-and-coming talent. Good PR for doing something great sounds OK. 🙂

Where Do We Start?

Reach out if you need help, but hopefully this page will give you the basics for a model. You mostly need:

 

  • A Lead CX/UX Researcher and/or Architect – who can run the program and oversee the apprentices as part of their job.
  • Standards – who will get in and who is likely to be offered a junior job during or after the apprenticeship. Your qualified and talented Lead should be able to determine who is a good fit.
  • Real projects – don’t give apprentices fake projects, stakeholder ego projects, or the typical internship “hey just come up with something you can improve.” But you won’t want to give them mission-critical projects without extra oversight. They are still learning.
  • Time – You need a Lead who can devote roughly 35% of their allocation to this program. They’ll start with formalizing and documenting how your company will execute on the program. They will review and select candidates. They will teach classes or choose whose video courses the apprentices must go through.

FAQs Are Content Without Strategy

Can we combine or hybridize roles?

No, it’s too early to try to make people into mini Jacks-of-All-Unicorns. I suggest that you let researchers learn research and testing. Let architects learn information architecture, interaction design, and prototyping. The point of the program is for people to really dive into one area of CX/UX, level up, learn, practice, and get closer to an entry level job. They are more likely to be hired into your company or impress a future employer if they show some depth and true ability versus shallow but broader skills. Our work is mission critical. Shallow skills don’t usually cut it for long. People can always add specializations and more skills later. Let’s start them with focus and depth in one area

Can this be done remotely?

Absolutely. Mine was. Stop making people come into offices. Pick great people no matter where they are. We lived in Slack and Zoom since we were located in the USA, Canada, UK, Netherlands, and Italy.

Do we have to pay these people?

Yes. In 2021, the going rate appears to be $15 USD (and it’s non-USD equivalents) per hour. $15/hr is now minimum wage in some US states. This doesn’t mean we pay minimum wage, but we can use it as a guide.

  • Unpaid internships or apprenticeships might be illegal where you are based. Check labor laws.
  • Unpaid work can be a signal that you don’t really value what they do.
  • Unpaid internships and apprenticeships can run against diversity and inclusion. People who can not afford to work without payment will not be able to join the program.

Do we need Architects and Researchers on our apprentice team?

Totally up to you. Later in this document, I’ll go into the role of your Lead practitioner in this program. If you have a Lead Researcher who can oversee researchers, great. If you have a Lead Architect who can oversee architects, great. If you have a great Lead Architect who hasn’t done much research, they might not make the best apprentice team leader for researchers.

Match the program you can offer to the skills and expertise of the Leads who will oversee the apprentices.

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