“We hire those that have the least amount of experience and the least amount of success in work so far,” Frances said. “There is no barrier to entry, so they can start learning from the ground up.”
Learning is something Frances and her staff know well. She and her founding partners have all worked in youth career development. Frances, herself, worked in alternative schools for 10 years before helping to found Prodigy Ventures.
She notes that there are a lot of misconceptions about why these young people drop out of school or aren’t successful in work. Prodigy’s approach is to address these reasons by using cognitive psychology to tap into its apprentices’ intrinsic motivations to learn. This approach immerses its participants in a social group, so they will model the behaviors seen around them. The training allows apprentices to move and grow constantly, so they become excited to learn – all while earning a living wage.
But sometimes being excited to learn is not enough. Obstacles such as depression or substance abuse can threaten to divide even the best learner’s attention. That’s why Prodigy offers free one-on-one mental health therapy and substance abuse counseling at no cost for those that need it.
“We talk about apprenticeship as deep work and deep learning in a culture of healing,” Frances said.
Good Things Brewing
Coffeeshops are places where people naturally socialize, so in a way, they are all about relationships. At Prodigy, terms like customer service aren’t a big part of the vernacular. Instead, new baristas learn about the power they have to positively affect people by talking about “loving on people” and how retail can create “relationships across differences.”
Internally, this kind of mindset helps reinforce an inclusive culture, which encourages everyone to be their own unique and authentic selves.
“I love it, because everyone is treated equally and can relate to each other,” Alonzo, a current apprentice, told me.