Long before “workforce development” was a term, there were apprenticeships.
The origins of these on-the-job learning positions goes back at least as far as the Middle Ages in the UK, and almost certainly much further than that if given some other branding. Before college became the status quo track for white collar jobs, people became lawyers through apprenticeships, not law school (people like Abraham Lincoln).
Over the years, apprenticeships became synonymous with the trades, a pathway to careers in manufacturing, electrical work, plumbing and construction. In many ways, it still is: Apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs for adults capture a large amount of investment for these trades in Delaware, including CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund funding.
Apprenticeships also have a place in the corporate world — as evidenced by a once-popular reality show — where having an executive mentor or sponsor can be a key to getting ahead as part of a traditional college to corporate path. Yet many Americans still associate success with high SAT scores and the four-year college experience, including dormitory living, sports, parties and a lot of student debt. The rise of coding bootcamps has started to change the narrative somewhat, though not without a lot of skepticism.
Apprenticeships are a very old and simultaneously kind of new workforce development path to a tech job that is beginning to take hold in the region, and will likely become common in Delaware.
CompTIA, the national computer trade industry association, launched Apprenticeships for Tech in October 2020, with the goal of growing and diversifying the national tech pipeline. The initiative helps companies establish apprenticeships programs through which they hire and train employees to their specifications. In other words, you build your own talent pipeline — a crucial move amid a global tech talent shortage. Note that in nearby Philadelphia, for instance, the City’s Office of Innovation and Technology recently launched a paid UX and engineering apprenticeship program, and plans to hire from it.
“This is a similar concept to the classic apprenticeships that grew in the trades, but it developed specifically for technical roles,” said Greg Plum, a board member for CompTIA who is also a Delaware partnership exec and board member for the Technology Forum of Delaware. “This concept of apprenticeships is relatively new in tech.”
They may sound like internships, but there are significant differences. Internships are short term, usually lasting just a few months. And, while good internships are paid, apprentices are actual employees who are getting paid to learn on the job. Many technical employers don’t require their apprentices to have coding certificates, and are often looking for prospects who don’t have preset coding methods.
So, if you don’t need experience or coding certificates or a degree, how does one get a job as a tech apprentice?
Arzo Aryan works as a security delivery analyst after graduating her apprentice with Accenture, one of the regional companies that has its own apprenticeship program.
“I had no idea that [apprenticeship] was a thing,” she said. “I was a sophomore in community college and one of my professors came to me and told me there’s this opportunity, I think you would be perfect for it. I thought it was just going to be an internship, then as I was looking through the the job posting it was saying like, full salary. And then all the benefits of a full-time employee.”
The Accenture campaign Aryan was hired through targeted community college students specifically, posted to the career website of her school at the time, Northern Virginia Community College, and only open to students at that school. After a few interviews, she was accepted to participate in a DC-based program and started in May 2019.
Aryan had no technical experience at the time, and similar to other tech training programs like bootcamps, it took a lot of work and commitment. In the end, she found it so valuable that she is now an apprenticeship participant ambassador for Accenture.
The decision to implement such a program at Accenture came from a need to develop its workforce, but also a desire to spark wider change, company exec Marty Rodgers said.
“We think about it as a movement,” he said. “The reason that it came together is because, to be blunt and direct, we thought the government was moving too slowly and was not focused enough on tech. We wanted to get engaged, we could see as we looked around the globe that the model was working in other countries. And we really wanted to focus on the jobs of the future and the jobs that would be there, that would be less likely to be disrupted in the future, and we would pay the wages that our families would need and help our country with the overall with its competitiveness, story and journey.”
Launching such an effort takes careful planning, but can make a big difference for a company.
“It took a huge mind shift to get to this point,” Rodgers said. “You can’t just talk about what we need to do around where we want the workforce to be. We actually have to sign up for it ourselves.”
Not every company is right for tech apprenticeships at this point. Small companies with fewer than 100 employees, especially, may not be ready for such programs, even with financial help. Prime candidates for apprenticeship programs usually have several things in common, says Amy Kardel, VP of strategic workforce relationships at CompTIA:
- Companies with longer-term planning and budgeting at least a year ahead on hires
- A desire to invest in people
- The need for entry-level talent
“I think ultimately it’s good business because they’re always creating new hires,” Kardel said. “It’s not a window dressing-type program, it really meets a business need.”
As offices continue opening back up to more in-person work — something Kardel says is important for effective onboarding and apprenticeships training (and for junior employees in general) — the number of tech apprentices in the US is expected to grow.
“I think we’re still in a sloshing bucket at the moment,” Kardel said. “We don’t have great data because of course this is all new to us, but we’re seeing interest in apprenticeships from both employers and from job seekers. I think in the first quarter [of 2022] companies can normalize their onboarding plans. The ingredients are all there for growth, there is government interest as well and subsidies. Has it caught fire yet? I’d say it’s about to.”-30-