Can an Apprenticeship Program Diversify the Tech Workforce?
A new apprenticeship program by the Washington Technology Industry Association Workforce Institute might help to both increase and diversify the U.S. tech pipeline. Apprenti is funded by federal and private funds, and it is geared toward tech workers.
Why is it so important? Because reaching the goal to diversify the tech workforce has been so difficult. While U.S. tech employment has reached 7.3 million, it’s a rather homogenous workforce. The movie, Hidden Figures, provides a glimpse into the challenges facing black women in technology, but half a century later, there’s still a significant lack of women in computer science, and with the exception of Asian employees, a lack of racial diversity.
And the absence of variety isn’t the only problem. There aren’t enough U.S. workers – of any gender or race – to meet the burgeoning demand for individuals with tech skills.
Jennifer Carlson, executive director of Apprenti, tells GoodCall®, “The program is focused on attracting, training and placing diverse talent – women, people of color, and veterans – into jobs without consideration for prior work experience or education.” However, Apprenti is open to any U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident who is at least 18 years of age and has a high school diploma or equivalent.
Close to 2,000 people are registered for the Apprenti assessment, and Carlson says 540 have passed the assessment and are now considered candidates.
The Apprenti process
The apprenticeship program has six steps:
- Take the competency assessment, which includes questions on math, critical thinking and soft skills.
- Based on test performance, candidates will be asked to interview with staff for open apprenticeship opportunities.
- Candidates who interview well with the staff will be invited to interview with a hiring partner.
- Attend interview with hiring manager.
- If selected, candidate will be notified of start date and technical courses required.
- After completing courses, candidate will be placed with a hiring partner.
Candidates can be trained and certified in a variety of areas. “Occupations include software application developer, web application developer, network security administrator, Windows systems administrator, Linux systems administrator, database administrator, project manager, data center technician and cloud support specialist,” Carlson says. However, there are also other roles currently in development as a result of market demand.
The length of these immersive training programs varies and is dependent on the certification associated with the occupation. “For example, network security is 14 weeks long versus 20 weeks for software application developer.” Currently, the apprentice does not pay anything for the training, and Carlson explains that the organization is constantly on the hunt for private funding so it can continue to offer training at no cost.
The fact that participants don’t pay for classes is where the ability to diversify comes in – many candidates would otherwise have no way to enter these tech fields.
Hiring partners may vary by location. “Washington is the pilot program, and our partners include Microsoft, Amazon, Avvo, F5, Silicon Mechanics, and Comtech,” Carlson says.
In western Washington, $42,000 is the minimum salary for apprentices – in addition to benefits. “At six months, apprentices receive a 10% salary increase based on improved performance,” Carlson says. However, she explains that the minimum amount is determined by location.
After the one-year apprenticeship, the hiring partner can choose to hire the apprentice on a full-time basis – or not. In the event the apprentice is not offered a full-time position, Apprenti will allow the individual to apply for positions with other hiring partners.
However, armed with these new skills, apprentices can also afford to be choosy. Brian Binke, president and CEO of The Birmingham Group, an executive search firm, tells GoodCall® that based on several years of experience, tech employees consider three factors when choosing a company. “Number 1: they want to work on the coolest innovations. Number 2, they want to be with a company that has a great culture.”
He says that Google is an example of the type of culture that tech workers like. “If you look at the interior of their office buildings, they are architecturally beautiful; and Google is known for hiring executive chefs to cook gourmet meals for their employees at no charge.”
Of course, innovation and culture are only two factors – the third is salary. But Binke believes that money is a distance third and only matters if the first two criteria are met. He may be right. A recent report on tech turnover reveals that some tech workers walk away from six-figure salaries based on the company’s culture.
Will Apprenti or a similar program be the effort that ultimately succeeds in the push to diversify the tech industry in the U.S.? That remains to be seen, but it offers promise.