Anne Arundel Community College’s Landscape Management Technician Apprenticeship Program encompasses 200-plus hours of training and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training. Over the next three years, Anne Arundel Community College has committed to partner with local and regional landscaping, nursery, lawn care, and greenhouse wholesale and retail employers to train 150 new and incumbent workers for a career in the industry. This program places heavy emphasis on landscape management or maintenance and focuses on the skills needed by a landscape technician in maintenance, installation and equipment care. Instruction is designed to provide apprenticeship development and technical background to support on-the-job success.
Apprenticeship and On-the-Job Training
Each apprentice is required to perform on-the-job (OJT) training. This OJT ensures that apprentices practice targeted skills on the work site as they learn them. To ensure that the apprentice receives a well-rounded education, tracking and reporting should be done and analyzed regularly. To ensure a balance of skill development, it is important that tracking includes the required number of hours in each task domain as well as total hours of OJT training.
Maintaining clear records can be an extensive task. To facilitate compliance, we explored options that would minimize workload for both data entry and analysis. We considered the following factors when selecting a system that would work for our employer partners. We elected to not collect traditional paper forms, because we wanted to be able to access and tabulate data in real time. We believe it would be best to use digital technology that would be accessible to our mentors from a variety of devices. We also believe that complicated logins and direct entry into a database would create barriers to tracking. A system that would store data securely on our college servers, so that it is accessible only to the apprenticeship sponsor, was required. It was also necessary that our form and the software meet our college’s Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) rules. One final consideration was to ensure that our program would automatically collect data from weekly reports in a way that we could manipulate and tabulate it.
After exploring available options, we elected to create a Microsoft Form for each employer. We were able to set up a reminder email which would send mentors a link to the form each week, making that form accessible and easy to find. Microsoft Forms automatically collects and stores data in Microsoft Excel. While we recognize that Microsoft products might not be the best solution for every apprenticeship program, we encourage you to consider the above factors when selecting a program that works with the systems you might already have in place in your organization.
A master form was created to gather completed OJT hours on a weekly basis. The form was customized for each company by including drop-down menus to allow tracking of multiple apprentices using the same tool. Additionally, we found that by using branching technology in our form site we could reduce the workload for the mentors submitting work hours for the apprentices. Managing the reporting workload is a critical factor in encouraging honest and up-to-date reporting. Feedback from our curriculum advisory committee showed a need for daily in-the-field tracking for companies managing larger numbers of apprentices. An optional paper form was created to meet this need.
Example of Mentor Tracking Document
In figure 1, you can see the form as it first appears to a mentor. At the bottom of the figure is the first question about the specific job tasks performed. This is the first in a series of questions that dynamically adjust the form to only ask further questions about the specific tasks that the apprentice performed that week.
Figure 2 shows the questions asked about each task domain. These questions allow the mentor to skip ahead to the first domain in which the mentor has data to enter. By adjusting the questionnaire to ask only about domains which have been demonstrated in each week, the time required for the mentor to file the report is shortened. Weekly time requirements to complete paperwork is a significant concern in recruitment of employers to participate in apprenticeships, so it is important to build efficient data submission processes.
In Figure 3, an example time entry for a task domain or subdomain can be seen along with the subdomain specifics for the job task. At the end of each domain entry, the next task requiring data entry is queued by using a branching question as seen in Figure 4.
Our apprenticeship is structured around six domains, with each having one to five subdomains. The form is organized into eight sections: the initial identification page, six task domain pages, and a general performance review page. We believed it was important to obtain performance feedback regularly throughout the apprenticeship. Our performance review scale is gauged to represent an expectation that the apprentice improves in each domain through practice in their on-the-job placement. Our apprentices are expected to begin each skill at the Trainee level and move toward Mastery as they complete the program. The Trainer level represents apprentices who have gained skills to the level that they can train others. It also represents outstanding work in the field. Our apprenticeship uses digital badging to recognize achievement and mastery of skills as assessed through the performance review embedded in our tracking form. An example of the performance tracking can be seen in Figure 5.
One of the advantages of using a Microsoft product for our tracking form is that our data is auto populated into an Excel spreadsheet. This facilitates our need to regularly analyze and track the recorded data as the apprenticeship sponsor. Periodic reviews can be made of the apprentice’s status, and at the end of an apprenticeship it can be reformatted into a final report for entry into the apprenticeship record. Figure 6 is an example of the spreadsheet for our tracker. Maintaining regular weekly records allows us to ensure that apprentices are progressing and performing in a way that will allow them to complete their apprenticeship successfully. It also maintains accountability for all stakeholders in the program, including mentors, employers and sponsors.