Professional discussion is a structured, two-way conversation between a learning leader and a learner. It provides a flexible way to gain a deeper understanding of how much a learner knows about their role. In apprenticeships, professional discussions can be effective as an assessment tool. These types of discussions are useful as a means of measurement to track learners’ performance and address any gaps in knowledge, skills and behaviors.

However, the less formal nature of professional discussions can leave room to question the validity of a learner’s response. The learner may be tempted to give any glib response to meet the mark or may feel pressured by having to engage in this type of communication, thus preventing the learning leader from being able to adequately support and improve their performance.

To safeguard the validity of answers, learning leaders will need to adopt a consistent and structured approach to conducting these types of assessments. Let’s examine some of the ways to successfully introduce professional discussions into any apprenticeship program.

Preparation is Key to Success

Prior to joining any apprenticeship program, learning leaders should prep their learners to engage in assessments including professional discussions. This can help ready learners to participate as well as answer commonly asked questions aligned with their role.

This is particularly important for apprentices who may feel nervous in this type of setting, as their apprehension could prevent them from fully engaging in the process. By anticipating these types of methods beforehand, learners can get the best out of the program.

The learning leader must have the skills to put learners at ease by practicing soft skills for effective listening and by preparing thoughtful questions with language the learner can understand. By introducing themselves and providing a full briefing of the assessment process at the start of the relationship, learning leaders can help build rapport and provide clarity on the program’s expectations.

Along with preparation, ideally, learners should receive the opportunity to record and review their own performance. Apprentices should also be encouraged to select their best assets and skills and to build a portfolio comprised of notes and insights to give a strong grounding for their answers. By doing this, learners can further prepare to engage in this type of assessment.

Be Consistent in Your Approach

It’s important for learning leaders to take a consistent approach to professional discussions, resisting any temptation to ask too many questions at once or veering off script. It’s also vital for leaders to be self-aware and to mitigate the potential for bias, whether unconscious or not.

Also in regard to consistency, there are guidelines and tools in place to assist in grading professional discussions, such as the regulated qualifications framework (RQF). Following these guidelines can provide a structured and consistent method to assessing the learner’s performance. The RQF framework is broken into levels from entry to senior level with guidance on how to grade for each level.

For example, an apprentice in an entry-level role may take the time to share examples focused on their personal development and contributions to drive organizational success, whereas an apprentice in a senior-level position may be expected to demonstrate behaviors aimed with managing teams and driving change.

Embrace the Opportunity

Professional discussions can be a great way to assess learners’ performance and the impact of any apprenticeship program. These assessments can help learners grow into their role and perform at their best. It allows them to gain a deeper understanding of how their role contributes to the organization’s success, further inspiring them in their career development.

These assessments can be blended with hands-on work and classroom training as a means of measuring what they’ve retained in learning and how it’s being applied to their performance.

And for candidates, interview-style assessments are a valuable opportunity to show how much they’ve learned through their apprenticeship and also to develop communication skills that will be beneficial to them in their future careers.

By taking steps to safeguard the validity of the process, including adopting unified principals and giving apprentices support in their preparation, both the apprentice and the learning leader can get the most out of the experience.