Sushi-Making and Other Apprenticeship Models

Blog / Produced by The High Calling

The desire of every rational human being to find guidance is certain. We don’t always look for it in good places, or gather it in sufficient quantities, or take it when it comes, yet we need it just the same. In this article, Sam Van Eman shares highlights from our series Show Me the Way.

In her Open Letter to Mentors of Millennials Stephanie S. Smith confirms what the research shows: Young professionals, like herself, “prefer a mosaic of influencers.” It’s hard to tell when the shift occurred from single mentorship to communal mentorship among 20-somethings. Over the past 15 years? In the after-effects of the industrial revolution?

The basic desire of every rational human being to find guidance is certain. We don’t always look for it in the right places, or gather it in sufficient quantities, or even take it when it comes to us, yet we need it just the same.

Old, young, professional, novice, homeless, tycoon; to a lone master or a populated mosaic—we call out, Show me the way!

Blacksmith VS Rolodex

I often think of apprenticeships as the agreement between a blacksmith in the Middle Ages and a 13-year-old boy learning the master’s trade. Apprenticeships have actually regained popularity in recent times. In the U.K., for example, data shows that “over the past nine years, engineering apprenticeships have shot up 86.8 per cent compared with an increase of only 22.4 per cent in those starting engineering degrees.” Despite the surprising increase, a report by economist Robert Lerman about apprenticeships in the U.S. states that they still “make up only about 0.3 percent of [the] total work force….”

This doesn’t mean that influential pairings between learner and teacher have changed in value. In our conversation at The High Calling about this topic, Bob Buford’s excitement about meeting with Peter Drucker for 25 years convinces me that people will connect almost exclusively with an individual if the match works.

But Bob found Peter in the 1970s. Stephanie is growing up in a different century. She continues in her open letter, “What was the apprenticeship of one is now the intellect, skill, and moral acquisition of many. We are intentional about having this canon of voices.”

On the one hand, I’m inspired by the traditional—albeit grueling—model highlighted in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, where an apprentice can’t even make a basic egg dish until he’s worked under Jiro for nearly a decade (I highly recommend this documentary). Or like Bob who sat at the feet of Peter as “Alexander sought out Aristotle.”

On the other hand, like Stephanie, my own life and phone list proves that I employ the communal approach. Call Paul for relationship advice, Chris VanHart for financial advice, John for spiritual advice. At work, it’s exactly the same. In the areas I most want to improve, I seek the individuals I respect most in each of those areas. It’s a “canon of voices.” I’m no 20-something, but the thought of having one master worker to follow feels stifling. How can all the wisdom I need come from one source?

If Bob highlights the power of one, and Stephanie, the power of many, Chris Cooke appears to land somewhere in the middle. In Follow Me, he writes, “Young adults need to see and hear—and be in a community with—older adults who live out their beliefs and behavior in an integral manner.” Chris directs a service and leadership program called PULSE, where each intern is paired with a single PULSE alumnus. Sounds like the traditional approach.

Yet PULSE has generated countless stories of impact over the years by placing interns within nonprofits and neighborhoods across the city of Pittsburgh. Whether it’s at the Andy Warhol Museum, the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation, or a hundred others, interns gain wisdom through a “canon of voices.”

Moses as Model

Regardless of the approach, the same prayer goes out for all of us when it comes to “show me the way,” and it’s this: that even the most professionally independent among us will remember the power of sage advice as we serve the Lord in our jobs. That's why Moses has become my go-to example. He turned to people like Aaron and Jethro and Hobab for the details (Rolodex), but when he asked God, “Teach me your ways, so that I may know you and continue to find favor with you” (Exodus 33:13), he was turning to the Source.

I want my life to do the same.

Here are several helpful resources on apprenticeships, mentoring, and millennials:

For more on seeking wisdom, read about the intersection between mentorship and the Shema, then subscribe to receive the Daily Reflections in your inbox.


Image by Zanthia. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

Show Me the Way

The BusinessWeek article The Misery of Mentoring Millenials suggests that "For a new generation of workers, the idea of seeking out a single career confidant is…old-fashioned."

Perhaps this represents more of a shift from single mentorship to communal mentorship than it is a shirking of wisdom altogether. In this series at The High Calling, Show Me the Way, we're addressing this topic as well as the broader meaning of the phrase. Join us for Bible reflections, featured articles, and discussion. Invite your colleagues to do the same. Our hope is that even the most professionally independent among us will remember the power of sage advice as we serve the Lord in our jobs.

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