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The case for tech apprenticeships

A new technologist, Kahiga Tiagha, shares his perspective on the need for on-the-job training.

This is a guest post by The ITEM cofounder Kahiga Tiagha.

I was having a conversation with a friend a couple of weeks ago. We noted nervously that now that we had committed to becoming AWS Solutions Architects, the rah-rah of people urging us to join the tech sector had dissolved into a deep foreboding silence. Help with projects is being stitched together through Stack Overflow and Server Fault message boards and advice from generous, anonymous Reddit gurus. We’re forging ahead together relying on each other through what feels like a sandstorm — a veritable case of the blind leading the blind.

We need an oasis. A place for learning amid the daily onslaught.

It is well publicized that tech industry is experiencing a talent crunch. This is evidenced in part by oft-quoted statistics: By the year 2020, you may have heard, there will be nearly 1 million jobs that will go unfilled due to a lack of computer science graduates. Encouragingly, our industry has taken on its workforce challenge with gusto and has attempted to solve it by providing nontraditional paths into the sector. A prime example of this is the proliferation of those daunting (and typically costly) coding bootcamps. Another industry strategy to increase the talent pool has been advocacy emphasizing the importance of diversity and inclusion in STEM. This seems to be having a measurable positive impact. As recently reported by NPR, the numbers for women and minorities pursuing STEM coursework increased significantly in 2016. This progress is believed to be sustained over the next few years.

But as a newly minted AWS Solutions Architect Associate, from the few solutions I have delivered, it is becoming startlingly obvious that the difference between knowledge and wisdom is… experience.

The tech industry already knows this, which makes the greatest barrier to getting into the industry a catch-22. As a newbie, you need experience — but no one will hire you if you don’t have experience. This reality is echoed at meetups and other events focused on how to get into tech. As varied as the success stories are, the common thread is essentially, “I figured it out on my own.”

Admirable as those individual stories are, they do not speak to a sustainable strategy to address the industry’s acute talent shortage. As such, there is room for improvement on how to identify, train and hire new technologists, especially those who are coming from non-traditional paths. And the answer may be simpler than one thinks: Practicums.

Companies that are experiencing talent shortage would do well to create fellowships, internships and apprenticeships. This is an emerging, almost throwback, career pathway that is gradually being (re)adopted by the industry. Those programs do not necessarily have to lead to hiring all the participants; what they provide to the employer is a close look at the talent in the program and the ability to choose their best fits. For the candidates — especially the newbies — it socializes them into the tech business environment, while burnishing their core skills and credentials for internal or external opportunities.

In an industry where replication is embraced, the tech industry would do well to look at some older professions such as law and banking, which have long developed processes of practicums. Or we could look at one of our own, Interactive Mechanics, a local dev shop, committed to developing new talent through an immersive and innovative fellowship program. The sooner our industry adopts the apprenticeship/fellowship model more widely, the corollary effect would be the effective bridging of the talent gap. Otherwise, they may have to send a Bedouin for us…

One such oasis is this: inclusion | hack, a bias-free, opt-in, forum for serious candidates to present their skills to employers with currently available positions or practicums that are committed to diversifying their workforce. On Oct. 26, 2017, join us and other like-minded peers to see if we can crack this spaghetti code together.

Companies: The ITEM

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