As someone holding four college degrees, it might seem odd to question the value of advanced education. But as someone who has spent a quarter-century working in the upper echelons of the tech industry, I have noticed a few trends:
First: The number of tech jobs available is vast, and the number of people educated to fill them is falling behind. According to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 8.6 million STEM jobs available in the U.S. in 2015, 70% of them computer-related. But the skills gap is acute. For example, 58% of new jobs in STEM are in computing, but only 10% of STEM graduates are in computer science, according to Code.org.
Second: More and more pressure is being placed on obtaining a degree, but from my perspective, there are a number of tech jobs that are “middle-skill positions,” or jobs that require more education than high school but less than college.
And third: The face of tech, despite continued efforts to increase diversity, continues to be predominately white and male, which is not a true representation of our diverse cultural landscape.
I’m proud of my degrees, and I’m the last person to talk anyone out of chasing their educational dreams. I also served as executive vice president and chief learning officer at the world’s largest business-to-business software company, where I was responsible for worldwide talent development strategy. Figuring out how to match people to jobs and ensure they are performing at their best levels has been my focus.
So, what’s the solution?
I believe a solution could lie in apprenticeships. I’ve written extensively on apprenticeships in the past, and from my perspective, we can create a highly skilled and more diverse workforce through paid, on-the-job training. I helped co-found the Silicon Valley Apprenticeship Consortium (SVAC), a nonprofit that aims to connect employers with programs to funnel workers through appropriate apprenticeships, which will fill their workforce while expanding its diversity. Through this experience, I’ve learned a few ways employers can ensure their apprenticeship programs are a success:
1. Understand what it entails.
A different type of labor status than a contractor, temp or regular employee, an apprentice works part time and is paid to go through specific training programs. Instruction (e.g., technical, academic or both) is delivered at a school, online or at the business.
A smart business leader will be hands-on in the process of creating an apprenticeship program. The best relationships are created when the employer:
• Clearly outlines the commitment they expect.
• Specifies the training and skills the apprentice will acquire.
• Establishes the timeline.
• Explains how often the apprentice will be evaluated and receive feedback.
• Describes what kind of job or compensation can be achieved at the conclusion.
Apprentices are motivated by rewards and acknowledgment, should understand what benchmarks they are expected to reach and receive pay increases as they gain skills.
2. Know the laws.
Your program must comply with specific state and federal guidelines to be considered an official apprenticeship program, which awards a national, industry-recognized credential that is portable. You can check online for more detailed information about the laws in your area.
Among the requirements that vary by region and industry are the need for a high school diploma, discrimination guidelines, payment for classroom instruction period and much more. There might be a state statute requiring a minimum age and/or a law banning age discrimination. Before you set admission requirements, check with a local apprenticeship training program in your area.
3. Ask the right questions.
What occupations do you want in your program? It’s best to pick areas where you will need multiple workers in the same role. Write out your plan, and get it approved by an apprenticeship agency or the U.S. Department of Labor. Some things to cover include:
• Skills and competencies needed for the occupation.
• Training required.
• Apprentice-to-mentor ratio.
• Level of payment during the apprenticeship and/or upon hire.
• Whether there’s a probationary period.
• The frequency of performance reviews.
• Minimum qualifications.
4. Understand the different types of apprenticeship programs.
Do your research. I can’t tell you which program style is right for your business; the options are myriad. For example, will your apprentice work every day and receive instruction after-hours, or work four days a week and train on the fifth? If successful, will they earn a job with your company or a certification good for employment anywhere in your industry? You can (and I suggest you do) join the U.S. apprentice system, which provides a nationwide network of expertise and support at no charge. And a good place to explore the basics is on the Department of Labor’s toolkit site.
5. Remember a few other best practices.
There’s a lot that goes into creating an apprenticeship program, and all the moving parts can be difficult to track. Consider delegating the aspects you don’t need to handle yourself, such as finding a training organization to help train and qualify your apprentices.
You should also remember that starting an apprenticeship requires funding, so you can do your research to see if you’re eligible for a grant to cover the costs of starting your program. You might also qualify for state/federal tax credits and be eligible for federal resources.
And last, remember to advertise. Traditional job sites are a resource for posting positions, but you can also list your program on the national apprenticeship search site, or you can look for other search sites that are more targeted to your specific area or industry. My advice: Do a basic search yourself, see which sites are most active in your area, and partner with those programs to get the word out.
Through structured on-the-job training and education, apprenticeships can help individuals without a college degree achieve family-sustaining careers and fill the yawning gap employers are facing for skilled help. That’s what I call a win-win.