Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What is an apprentice?

My attention has been drawn to a marvellous television programme, which I understand is well-viewed by the public and which seeks to introduce the world of business to the common man.

The notion of an apprentice is of course mediaeval and is strongly linked to the grip of craft guilds on commerce. In an age of mercantilism, an apprentice can spend half a life-time learning a craft whilst in the time of free trade, a worker may need to acquire skills faster.

The purpose of this public venture is a little unclear to me. The contestants appear youthful, as if the recruiter, Sir Alan Sugar, is seeking a substitute son (or daughter) who will, in time, learn the crafts of commerce. Yet the responsibilities placed upon them appear to be onerous, even if the applicants claim to have previous experience of business.

My viewing this evening suggests that these young people do indeed lack experience. A very intelligent and well-educated young man was removed from the contest for making a gross error of mathematics. There was no possibility that this might be attributed to the rashness of youth.

If this was harsh, it would have been harsher still to remove those who "stepped up" as leaders of teams. For the essence of a leader, be it in politics or in business, is that the leader can pick the lieutenants, based upon their experience and ability to contribute to the task in hand. A leader will not select a raw youth for a vital task without placing a check on their performance of the task. If the leader does not have the liberty of making his own appointments, he might at least hope to be assigned people of proven ability to provide his support.

Undoubtedly some are born to leadership and perhaps Sir Alan was one, as were Alexander or Nelson. Others acquire great qualities as did Wellington and, I would dare to hope, it might be stated that I did myself, as at the age of 50 I still held the second office in the land with little thought of acquiring the most eminent ministerial position.

I understand that Sir Alan places his recruits in significant positions of responsibility within his business. That he should seek only to recruit from youth would suggest there is a limit to his own abilities.

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