Apprenticeships: an Old-New Approach to Entrepreneurship Education

The Digital Storytellers Guild (from l to r): Miriam Saslove, Jocelyn Courneya, Melina Kokkinos, Luc Lalande (Photo credit: Melina Kokkinos)

Post-secondary institutions across Ontario are embracing entrepreneurship education at an unprecedented rate according to 2014 report by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (link to PDF). Beyond the notion of starting new businesses, entrepreneurship education benefits students in many diverse ways including the development of critical skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity — 21st century skills that are increasingly in demand by both public and private sectors. The University of Ottawa Entrepreneurship Hub is adopting its own unique approach to entrepreneurship education through a “learning-by-doing” model that has a long and successful history in the trades: apprenticeships

Source: World Economic Forum — What are the 21st-century skills every student needs?

The apprenticeship model of entrepreneurship education is described in more detail in the following interview between the Executive Director of the University of Ottawa Entrepreneurship Hub Luc Lalande and students Jocelyn Courneya, Miriam Saslove, and Melina Kokkinos from the Faculty of Arts who are currently experiencing apprenticeships as part of a student-led venture named the “Digital Storytellers Guild” (DST Guild).

DST GUILD: Apprenticeships have a long history of success in occupations (e.g., trades) characterized by technical proficiency of tools. Why did you believe it had potential application to entrepreneurship education?

LALANDE: When I first joined the University of Ottawa in June 2014, I spent considerable time talking to students about the meaning of entrepreneurship. It became clear to me then that many young people on campus identified entrepreneurship as something that primarily interested business students. Following this train of thought, entrepreneurship education was synonymous with taking a business course if not an outright business degree. My challenge therefore was to find a way to engage students in a way that fostered an entrepreneurial mindset and behaviours without students having to a) feel they needed to take a business course or degree and b) start a business. In order to reach more students beyond the business school, I needed to change the “language” that is typically adopted in describing entrepreneurship education. The famous quote from management guru Peter Drucker sums it up best: “Entrepreneurship is neither a science nor an art. It is a practice.”

Another deep influence in adopting the apprenticeship model of “learning-by-doing” was my involvement with the global maker movement and more specifically maker education. I was intrigued by the constructionist learning paradigm pioneered by Seymour Papert, one of founding faculty members of the MIT Media Lab. The core tenet of his Constructionist theory of learning is that people build knowledge most effectively when they are actively engaged in constructing things in the world.

I imagined that Papert’s model could be applied to entrepreneurship education by way of apprenticeships. Practice-based entrepreneurship, I thought, would be the next best thing to actually starting up your own venture.

LALANDE: As undergraduate students in the public relations and communications program in the Faculty of Arts, you are among my first “subjects” experimenting with this apprenticeship model of entrepreneurship education. What has been your experience so far?

DST GUILD: Outside of student associations, internships, and volunteering, it is very hard to find ‘hands on’ experience in communications as a university student. Becoming a part of the Digital Storytellers Guild allows for guidance and mentorship within the fields that interest you, while at the same time giving you the ability to manage your own projects and be creative. This program allows you to take risks, build your portfolio and take responsibility unlike other student learning experiences.

Test Run of Starling’s One — Collaboration with artist/designer Manuel Baez and pHacktory (photo credit: Melina Kokkinos)

DST GUILD: With so much emphasis on campus-based incubators and accelerators do you think the idea of “apprenticeships in entrepreneurship” will catch on?

LALANDE: I do. Especially for those full-time students who are simply not ready to launch their own ventures but nonetheless wish to learn to think and behave more entrepreneurially. Apprenticeships while in school are a terrific way for students to gain valuable skills and experience before they graduate. And getting paid for it at the same time!

This article was originally written by the Digital Storytellers Guild and published in the print edition of TECHOPIA August 2016