We all have some stories about apprentices, some from your own early days and some from the more recent past working with young lads straight from school. More often than not, the trainee plasterer will want to get straight on with the spreading and bypass the grunt work, expecting to become as skilled as their boss within a week. Whether that is a new attitude or an old one is debatable, but it certainly seems like any form of work ethic is slowly disappearing and not many people are interested in taking the time to properly learn the skills they need, instead assuming that it is easy and requires no input or effort to learn, or even to turn up on time.
It is possible to turn a lazy apprentice into a good one, but if there is no interest in the plastering trade then it is nigh on impossible to plant the seed and nurture the shoot, so don’t waste time trying to convince someone to put the effort in if they have no desire to do the job. If you think there’s a spark of interest, take time during breaks to chat to the apprentice and find out what makes them tick. Once you understand their motivation it is much easier to encourage them and reward them for a job well done. It is also worth telling them how you started out as a plasterer; sometimes knowing that the people teaching you also went through the same hard slog to begin with makes the grunt work less boring, and gives the apprentice a clear idea of how long it takes to get skilled up. It also worth mentioning at this point the importance of an early night and a clear head in the morning for full concentration.
Understanding the importance of the prep work is vital if you want the apprentice to get his work done in time, so don’t ask them to do anything without explaining why it needs doing. If they start to question you, try and stay patient and give them an answer, but don’t lose authority; some young people seem to have the attitude that they know it all better than you, and this approach will get them nowhere. Keeping that authority is crucial if you want to be able to teach the apprentice, or at the very least have them listen when you tell them to get off their phones and do some work! It might be a step too far to confiscate phones on site, but if they’re glued to that screen the second they have finished whatever task they were on, they’ll never actually witness a whole job done from start to finish. Putting a rule in place that phones can only be used during breaks is a good idea, as long as you can stick to it as well; leading by example is a good way to encourage an apprentice to act in the same way in order to fit in.
If your apprentice shows a real interest in plastering, let them have a go with the trowels as soon as you can. Letting them get involved makes them feel useful, and like they are actually learning something. Sometimes putting responsibility onto an apprentice pays off, as they get more and more into the trade and are less likely to quit than if they are never allowed to do any plastering. If the apprentice has a real knack for it then you’ll get them skilled up in no time. By the time they are starting to plaster it might be time to make them a cup of tea instead of the other way round; it is a simple gesture but one that shows they are appreciated for more than their tea making skills (it is not OK to sack an apprentice just because of poor tea making skills, however tempting it might be!).
Of course, a poor attitude and persistent lateness or hangovers should not be tolerated as it sends the wrong message; once they’ve turned up late once without any consequences they’ll do it again and again. Set your expectations out from the start and stick to your guns; if you threaten to sack them for one more late start you have to go through with it. Likewise, if they fail to meet the timescales for a job or do it badly all the time you need to be clear that it’s not acceptable, and even lay them off for a day or two until they can be bothered to do it properly. By being strict about standards you can weed out the poor ones and not waste any more time trying to teach someone who doesn’t want to learn, and instead get a new apprentice who might be more use.
Once your apprentice plasterer has realised that putting in the effort will pay off in the end, keep on motivating and rewarding them for good work. Setting a financial goal is a good way of increasing the effort and productivity of your apprentice; once they are working at a level where they are actually helping you, offer to pay them more money than the apprentice wage. This will make them feel like they are really progressing towards having a trade and being able to work enough to support themselves, and keep them on the right path. Before long the apprenticeship will be over, and you can decide to keep them on, or help them set up on their own. Of course, this is entirely up to you and there is no obligation to employ them once qualified, but if they’re really good it’s worth keeping them close rather than letting them go to the competition. The next step is taking on your next apprentice and starting all over again!