November 23, 2021

3 Ways Tech Companies Can Embrace Apprenticeships

The United States government’s Department of Labor reported 10.4 million job openings in August 2021. With so many vital positions vacant, the competition for talent is fierce, and a survey of HR professionals identified hiring as the biggest challenge of 2021. One way companies can get ahead is through apprenticeship programs.

According to a September 2020 report from the Labor Department, 94 percent of apprentices who complete their programs find employment with an average annual salary of $70,000. These initiatives offer great benefits for the employees they train. Still, they also provide organizations a way to tap into a new source of talent and work toward diversity initiatives simultaneously.

Tech, in particular, is one industry that could greatly enjoy benefits from apprenticeship models. The tech industry has a great need for a skilled and more diverse workforce, but tech accounts for only 1 percent of all apprenticeships, according to Labor Department data.

History of Apprenticeships

There’s no simple explanation for why tech hasn’t embraced these registered apprenticeship programs, but it’s likely a combination of two main factors. First, there’s a stigma that apprenticeships are strictly for trade occupations. Second, there’s a prevailing notion that technology roles require a four-year degree.

The latter may have been true at one point, but the newest generation of workers are digital natives and have many resources outside traditional education to gain skills — and some major organizations are taking note. Today, tech giants like Apple, Google, and IBM have abandoned degree requirements for many of their top positions.

Still, many tech employers consider only candidates with four-year degrees. This requirement cuts out many applicants who have historically lacked the resources to obtain higher education. Because minorities and marginalized groups are often left behind in the higher education system, particularly as the cost of a degree increases, companies that primarily recruit college graduates will hire roughly the same populations.

That’s not just bad news for minorities. It affects every tech company currently grappling with improving diversity. We’ve known for a while that there’s a compelling business case for diversity initiatives.

In McKinsey’s 2015 Diversity Matters report, findings illustrated that the top quartile of organizations in terms of racial and ethnic diversity was 35 percent likelier to beat median financial return numbers than their more homogeneous peers. The report also found that, in the U.S., each 10 percent increase in the racial and ethnic diversity of executives boosted earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) by 0.8 percent.

Yet, most tech companies have made very little progress in their efforts to recruit a more diverse labor force. For example, at Facebook, black employees went from making up about 3 percent of the organization in 2015 to 3.8 percent in 2020.

It’s time for tech companies to tap into new talent pipelines and extend opportunities to a broader pool of candidates. If your company is ready to develop programs that provide your organization with valuable, skilled workers, start with the following steps.

1. Recruit the Right Apprentices

Building or utilizing apprenticeship programs that benefit your organization starts with finding the right people. Don’t narrow your search to recent four-year graduates with degrees in computer science. Instead, expand your pipeline for opportunities to bring in a diversity of experiences and soft skills along with the eagerness and aptitude to learn.

Half of local community college graduates earn associate degrees in technical fields, so this is an excellent place to begin your search. Beyond surveying recent community college graduates in the area to pick out people ripe for an apprenticeship program with your company, look into building partnerships with these institutions. Community colleges can gauge students’ interest and vet potential candidates for your organization’s program.

Similarly, you can look for nontraditional coding education pathways nearby.

Coding boot camps or other alternative skilling programs, especially free programs, give students a more comprehensive range of opportunities to learn new skills. These programs require a lot of self-initiative and often time-management skills as students work other jobs or care for families. Candidates can bring a high level of dedication and valuable soft skills to your organization.

2. Identify Your Company’s Specific Skills Gaps

If you’ve been hiring from traditional pipelines but still have unfulfilled talent needs at your organization, apprenticeship programs could help you mold an apprentice to fill the gaps.

Rather than hiring someone based on existing experience and skills alone, look for apprenticeship candidates who are eager to learn new skills that can help your company. Outline these skills and share them with your recruitment partners (perhaps community colleges, as mentioned above) or other potential apprentices.

Then, highlight that your needs may evolve and find agile apprentices who will be willing to learn new things through their tenure with your company. As the world grows more digitized and companies must constantly innovate, your talent needs will change frequently. Apprenticeship programs are an excellent opportunity to bring on flexible people whom you can mold to meet your talent needs as you strive to stay ahead in your market.

3. Add Mentorship to Your Apprenticeship Program

Successful apprentices receive support beyond learning technical skills. Pair apprentices with senior-level employees in mentorship programs to help mentees learn the ropes faster, understand your company culture, get on-the-job training, and build relationships. This can result in more efficient onboarding and a better overall experience for apprentices.

What’s more, senior-level mentors can benefit from the experience as well. Studies show that those who serve as mentors tend to display a higher commitment to employers and more satisfaction with their jobs.

Apprenticeships offer incredible opportunities for the employees they train and the companies that rely on them. The tech field has eschewed these programs in the past, but it’s time to embrace them and unlock their multifaceted potential.

Lori Eaton is the senior vice president of company relations at LaunchCode.

 

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Lori Eaton is the senior vice president of company relations for  LaunchCode. LaunchCode is a nonprofit aiming to fill the gap in tech skills by matching companies with trained individuals.