Learning Through Apprenticeship

The Girls Guild is an Austin-based start up that seeks to empower young women as creatives, designers, and makers through the established but frequently overlooked apprenticeship tradition.  Inspired in part by the maker movement, the rise of STEM, and a revitalized artisinal economy, The Girls Guild connects young women looking for a career spark with women who have established their own creative enterprises.  According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics apprenticeship is a typical entry path for occupations like electrician, carpenter, plumber, sheet metal workers, funeral directors, and pipe fitter.  Individuals in these careers learn by doing.  The Girls Guild focuses on occupations in the areas of crafts, design, and STEM–sectors that are not typical spheres for apprenticeship culture but provide some dynamic opportunities for learning by doing.

According to the Pew Research Center only 46% of college graduates believe that their education was “very useful” in preparing them for a job or career.  After four or more years of college and a mountain of debt many graduates find themselves in jobs that are unfulfilling and/or do not require a college degree.  As Helen was nearing the end of college she came to an unpleasant realization: she was not prepared to pursue the future that she wanted.  The self-described, “Austin design nerd,” maintained an interest in the small entrepreneurs and designers that she followed through blogs and pop-up shows. But college had not provided her with the skills to pursue that path with knowledge, experience, or confidence.  She decided to seek out a pathway that was alternative to college and discovered The Girls Guild apprenticeship program.

The Girls Guild invited us to visit one of their apprenticeship programs with Canoe Goods, a modern leather goods line hand crafted  by founder Natalie Davis.  Helen was her apprentice.  We were especially struck by the perspective that Helen fashioned regarding college, learning, and alternative pathways to career opportunity.  In the video, Helen makes an impressive case for why education needs to become more relevant in the lives of young people.

Helen (on the right) is pursuing her interest in a career in design and entrepreneurship through apprenticing and "learning by doing."
Helen (on the right) is pursuing her interest in a career in design and entrepreneurship through apprenticing and “learning by doing.”

Helen’s thoughts on college: “I decided that classroom teaching might not be for me which is part of what lead me to taking some time to work on an apprenticeship.”

Helen on what she is learning through her apprenticeship: “I’m learning a variety of skills as well as about all of the scheduling and organization that goes into doing things like trade shows, and promotions, and sales, and all of the things that you don’t think of when you think about having a creative or design job.”

Helen on the value of ‘learning by doing’: “If there were maybe more opportunities for people to learn a new skill or even have a minimum wage job were they were accruing small business experience and they were getting to see what it looks like as an entrepreneur and the kinds of responsibilities and skills that you need would be a really good thing.” 


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