Education of the Audio Engineering Society
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Apprenticeship/Internship In Audio

Roy Pritts, Past Chairman of the Audio Engineering Society Education Committee

There is a difference between an apprenticeship and an internship in audio. In preparation for a profession, the training may be one of those two historical models.

Apprenticeship Model

The apprenticeship model is individual study with a master or resident in the profession. This training is sufficient for some employers because it usually results in an employee who has been shown how to do a job and how to service the tasks unique to the employer�s clients. Instruction starts from the assumption that a student has limited previous training or vocabulary in the profession and proceeds according to the employer�s desire to meet labor needs. It requires the student to be a self-learner, if broader concepts and continuing education are desired.

There was a time in the early history of the industry when some employers found this model to be a satisfactory feeder system. However in the audio industry today, this model is of limited success where technology is changing so quickly and employers are quite specialized. Employers in such fields as design, manufacture, and academic/scientific inquiry are not prepared to educate students through the apprenticeship model.

Internship Model

The internship model is formal study followed by a period of guided observation and application. This model assumes that the student has completed a course of basic instruction covering the history, hardware and techniques of the profession. Students have learned how to learn and, at the same time, how to do. Group instruction also reinforces growth in interpersonal skills.

The audio industry has seen an increased need for entry-level employees who have completed a formal basic education and are prepared to profit from an environment where continued learning through observation and refinement of applications is provided. The industry also expects that a formal education model will thin out the pool of applicants and divide them into two groups: those who have the capability and discipline for careers in a complex industry and those who do not.

The School: With or without an internship program, a school and its instructors must identify the segment of the audio industry that they can service and maintain regular contact. Development of an internship program is usually the charge of the lead instructors who have professional experience and professional relationships with that segment. Selection for placement should be individualized, taking into account the preparation and career intention of each student. Cooperative Education programs are formal courses with specific academic outlines for expectations of the students and the hosts.

The Host: Some hosts have developed formal internship programs. They have discovered that upon accepting interns, certain basic vocabulary and skills are present and specific steps of engagement in their environment must be stipulated. Other hosts have no established programs for interns; they accept occasional interns and rely on the schools to regulate and evaluate the progress of these students. A major advantage to an employer taking an intern from an established educational institution is liability coverage. Such a student is most likely to be covered by health insurance, since he/she is registered in an academic course during the period of the internship. Good communication with the school and host will assure that the expectations of all are mutually rewarding. A good internship program provides an employer the opportunity to screen entry-level applicants and to participate in their formal education. The objective is cooperative education, an educational partnership. Generally, when hosts are asked what are you looking for in an entry-level employee? The typical answer is that they need someone who is ready to learn.

The Instructor/Host: When appointed by the employer to be a host to an intern, it must be understood the normal work goes on. The disposition of an intern must be positive for the instructor/host, otherwise there may be trouble. A good host has identified the appropriate instructor and has created an excellent environment for growth and participation which does not adversely affect the workplace. Remember the host has found an advantage in the internship program that outweighs the distractions, but at no time can the internship distract from the mission to serve the client. Delicate client/producer relationships and privileged conversations must be dealt with professionally. For example, a client may be uncomfortable with the presence of a student/intern during production and may request privacy. The instructor/host and the intern must be sensitive and compliant in these situations and have no unreasonable expectations under these circumstances.

The Student: Upon entry into an internship opportunity, a student should feel confident in the basic instruction he/she brings to the situation and should know where to find answers to new questions. When placed in an active professional environment, an intern usually observes professionals as they identify a problem, discuss the possible resolutions, apply a chosen solution, and evaluate the results. In this process, the intern reinforces the steps of identification of a problem, the review of possible applications to solve the problem, the selection and application of a process of solution, and the evaluation of success of the choice. The process of identification, appraisal, application, and evaluation are common to scientific problem solving. The intern now has a tool for future use. But this activity is of no value if he/she does not understand the vocabulary, is not familiar with proposed remedies, does not understand standard applications, or does not know how to evaluate results. As an entry-level employee, usually unpaid, with this special permission to learn through observation, the intern cannot be too proud to take on any job that is required of other employees. Yes, this could mean cleaning toilets or getting coffee.

The timing of an internship can take one of two interesting paths. Sufficient academic progress should be completed to assure that basic education is firm. When undertaken before the last semester of formal education, the internship allows for a final fine tuning, a chance to take one more course that makes one a more desirable entry-level employee. When undertaken after completion of school, a student is available for immediate employment. Many good internships lead directly to jobs.

The Unpaid Internship: Considering the cost of subsistence during this period, internships are predictably discriminatory. Only those who can afford to work for free are available. This is one of the costs of education which the industry and the student must accept. Every effort must be made to assure, in all ways, internship placements are in no way discriminatory. All participants in the process want to be assured that the industry is seeing the very best of its young talent.

When all of these positive elements of an internship fall into place, the student comes out with a better understanding of his/her strengths and weaknesses. Maturity, dependability, and positive interpersonal skills are universally required. In attitude and appearance, the intern must fit comfortably into the host environment. Students should remember that they are guests in these host locations and that professional conduct and appearance are specified by the hosts. They are, in all other aspects entry-level employees.

Finally, whether you choose an apprenticeship or internship depends on the particular field of study. Well, now you have to make some hard choices.

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