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Why Philly’s Office of Innovation and Technology launched a paid UX and engineering apprenticeship

Anyone who's been a City employee for at least a year — across any department or role — could apply for the two-year training program. The goal: cultivate a more diverse technical workforce within local government.

Center City at night. (Photo by Flickr user Michael Righi, under a Creative Commons license)

The City of Philadelphia’s Office of Innovation and Technology has created an apprenticeship program for current City employees interested in careers in tech and looking to increase their earning potential. It’s a play at cultivating a more diverse technical workforce within local government.

OIT launched the two-year OIT Apprenticeship Program focusing on either software engineering or user experience to provide tech training and mentorship to city workers in different departments. The program will start with a three- to four-month bootcamp with either LaunchCode or General Assembly, depending on whether the apprentice is taking the engineering or UX route, respectively.

After the bootcamp, the apprentices will work full time with teams at OIT on resident-facing projects. OIT will pay for the bootcamp training and a $60,000 salary during both years of the apprenticeship program. Preference is given to applicants who are currently making under $50,000 within their roles for the City, OIT said, but they could have experience in sanitation, community building, safety or any of the City’s other areas of work.

The program is funded through the City’s new Operations Transformation Fund.

Dan Lopez, the City’s director of software engineering, told the department held four info sessions to gauge interest in the program, and they had “overwhelming interest” with about 400 attendees. About 230 people applied for the first cohort’s three slots, and their team is in the process of choosing apprentices now.

The program’s leadership team wanted to consider as many people as were interested, and didn’t impose educational requirements or related background in the selection process, said Sara Hall, OIT’s user experience practice lead. They also didn’t ask for a cover letter with applications, and are looking forward to the institutional knowledge folks from varying departments could bring to tech projects. Mainly, she said, they were looking for the ability to learn things on your own and a passion for working with the City.

“We wanted to make sure there was low barrier to entry, because anyone can be a good UX designer or engineer if they have the passion and interest for it,” Hall said.

At the end of the two years, the apprentices will be qualified for a variety of mid-level roles in tech, and Lopez said they’ll be working on projects the department would normally contract out for. The first cohort will likely be chosen by the end of November, and the team is hopeful that more cohorts will be offered, contingent on the necessary funding.

“With people coming on from different types of backgrounds, it will diversify the work we do, too,” Lopez said.

Companies: LaunchCode / City of Philadelphia / General Assembly / Office of Innovation and Technology
People: Sara Hall

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