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“Know nothing. Learn everything.” How American National Unlocked the Power of Apprenticeships

“Know nothing. Learn everything.” How American National Unlocked the Power of Apprenticeships

Four words of advice helped superstars at through their IBM Z Apprenticeship Program

American National logo

“Know nothing. Learn everything.” This phrase rang true as American National celebrated the graduation of its first cohort of IBM Z Apprentices this month, in collaboration with IBM and Franklin Apprenticeships in League City, Texas. During the ceremony, senior leaders, managers, and mentors celebrated the stories of IBM Z Apprentices who built specialized technical and professional skills on the job. 

Tim Fry, Professional Success Coach from Franklin Apprenticeships, highlighted how Michael Smith, Director of Large Systems at American National, coined a phrase early on that set up the program for success, “We expect that our apprentices know nothing and learn everything.” 

“That has stuck with me ever since,” Tim explained. “I’ve used that on calls with managers and mentors at other companies too, because it’s such a true insight into what this apprenticeship journey is all about. The American National apprentices challenged themselves. They asked, ‘What can we do? What can we learn?’ They did a lot of self-discoveries. They did a lot of research. They helped each other out. And they excelled.”  

Speaking to the graduates, keynote speaker, Shelly Meierarend, IBM zSystems Skills Ecosystem Leader, emphasized the importance of what the apprentice graduates have achieved. “You are now part of a tradition of very skilled workers who honed your craft through this wonderful apprenticeship program,” she said.  

IBM Z Apprentice Graduate Jeremy W. was previously working as a manager at a tire shop before starting his apprenticeship journey in March 2022. After his wife had their first baby, he was ready for a change from working 60-70 hours per week and looking for a long-term, stable career. He admitted he didn’t even own a computer when he first heard about the program. But he took a leap and started the IBM Z Pre-Apprenticeship, working late into the night through the coursework. 

Tech Apprentice Graduates at American National cut cake
Jeremy W. (left) and Sean K. (right) cut cake at their graduation ceremony.

“It was very discouraging in the beginning because I didn’t know any of this stuff,” Jeremy recalled. “But I kept going. I kept going and I really found an interest in it. When I started seeing the badges come in, I felt proud of that. So, I continued.” 

In May 2022, Jeremy was hired as a full-time apprentice by American National and he hit the ground running. 

“He had a passion for the mainframe, and he just picked it up and went with it,” Fry recalled. “It highlights the type of person Jeremy is.”  

“I’m looking back, and it tugs at my heartstrings,” Jeremy reflected to the audience, which included his wife and young daughter. “It’s like, wow. It’s incredible. It’s an incredible opportunity that I get to work for American National and be on this team and go through this program that IBM and Franklin offered. So, I really appreciate everything and I’m super blessed to be here.” 

IBM Z Apprentice graduate Sean K. joined American National’s apprenticeship program after earning his college degree and particularly enjoyed the challenging format of the earn-and-learn program. 

“I got started on the IBM Pre-Apprenticeship and at first, I was super, super confused,” Sean explained. “It was wildly different from anything I was taught in school. And I liked it because it was more challenging in a lot of ways. They sort of just throw you in like, ‘Ohh here’s some JCL’…. like this crazy looking stuff! I eventually figured it out and learned how to solve those problems.” 

Smith shared a memory of Sean’s interview at American National. “I think Sean had the funniest comment in any interview I’ve ever had. When we asked him about the mainframe, he said, ‘It’s like I’m in the secret club now!’ We all thought that was great.” 

The problem solving didn’t stop at JCL or the interview. Sean looked back on his early days on the job and explained to his mentor how far they had come. 

“In the first couple of weeks, you were drawing on the white board… that big BIG diagram of all the different LPARs and stuff… and making that really scary looking picture. But now I’m feeling more confident. We can get work done and be productive, and I wouldn’t be able to do that without you.” 

“Never stop asking questions,” Nick Bastos, AVP IT Infrastructure and Operations at American National said. “That’s really important. If you’re stuck on a problem, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. I’m thrilled to congratulate you and encourage you to continue to grow your careers with American National and mentor any new apprentices in the future.” 

Smith reinforced the importance of curiosity and asking questions. “It became obvious to me early on that our apprentices have a key attribute that is essential for systems programmers. We call it being a ‘digger.’ It’s not only a responsibility. It’s a relentless curiosity. Saying how does that work? Why is that like that? And you guys are diggers and so is everyone on this team. It’s really great to see.” 

Steve Baugh, Lead Systems Programmer at American National, talked about how the apprentices grabbed every opportunity that was offered as part of the program. “Sean jumped right into the projects and doing things that I would never have imagined a beginning system programmer jumping into that quickly. And Jeremy, what can I say about him? He’s a Subject Matter Expert on a product already and he’s teaching me things about it.” 

Kim Nichols, CEO and Founder of Franklin Apprenticeships wrapped up the celebration well, saying, “I’m super proud of you for making it through the program. It sounds like you’re just killing it there at American National. Well done.” 

Click Here to learn more about the IBM Z Apprenticeship program.

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