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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Why Tech Companies Should Consider Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships are being employed successfully by corporations across the globe, but the US has traditionally been slower to adopt programs that offer people the chance to learn a trade and gain recognized qualifications, essential skills, and work experience. Data shows that just 0.2 percent of employees in the US are apprentices, which is down significantly from the two to three percent in countries such as Canada, Australia, and Germany.

Alternative route
There is a growing opportunity for proactive enterprises to offer an alternative route for prospective tech employees to secure a fulfilling and well-paid role within the industry. The traditional path via higher education may even be outdated in a business landscape where digital skills are so highly sought after. A recent study by Pew Research Center found that just one in six people believe that a four-year degree prepares students sufficiently for a well-paying job, while just 50 percent of graduates said that it increased job opportunities or gave them specific, applicable skills for roles. The burden of debt, which is now soaring to an average of $30,000, is also a drawback.


Tailored skill sets
Apprenticeships should, therefore, be seen as a viable outlet for tech enterprises to tap into this growing disillusionment with higher levels of education in order to build a qualified workforce with skills that can be tailored exactly to their needs. Rather than having to compete for graduates with a broad skill set, digital leaders can provide cost-effective schemes that attract talented individuals and develop them accordingly. The Department of Labor estimates that a four-year degree isn’t required for 40 percent of today’s tech jobs, so the opportunity to establish a flexible workforce at scale is becoming too great to ignore for both SMEs and large corporations.

Address skills shortages
Skills shortages in the tech sector are quickly becoming a major challenge, with code.org estimating that there were just 43,000 computer science graduates for more than 500,000 computing jobs in the US in 2016. The talent deficit is a significant obstacle to growth for many modern enterprises as they are unable to source the skilled staff that they require to drive digital transformation and fill the increasing number of tech-related roles in cyber security and data analysis. Almost three-quarters of employers claim that they are unable to find candidates for IT and tech jobs, and the situation is only likely to get worse without drastic measures.

Greater responsibility
President Donald Trump is hoping to address the problem after recently ordering a new apprenticeship program that will double funding for apprenticeship grants and establish broad standards for enterprises, industry groups, and unions to design and implement schemes. Research by the Commerce Department found that employers still don’t fully understand how to implement apprenticeships effectively, so the onus is on the government and businesses to take on greater responsibility to ensure that funding is used correctly and more people can access debt-free training programs. Renowned business executive Charles Phillips has been raising awareness and helping both corporations and students to achieve their goals through his charity, which promotes STEM education programs. A collective effort by all major players is key to preparing today’s and tomorrow’s workforce for the tech boom.

Diverse perspectives
Pinterest is among the tech leaders that are using apprenticeships to develop a more diverse workforce. “The benefits of diverse perspectives is that when it comes to problem solving and innovation, those with the same type of education can all get stumped on a problem,” Pinterest Head of Diversity Candice Morgan says. “Having someone with a different background allows them to solve problems with economics or design, like our apprentices do, and that is a real advantage.” The visual discovery platform started its own apprenticeship program in 2016 with the aim of increasing hiring rates for those from non-traditional and underrepresented backgrounds.

Learning culture
Apprenticeships can also be used to create a culture focused on learning. Software consulting enterprise 8th Light believes that apprenticeships expose employees to underlying concepts of tech such as coding and allow them to learn languages and skills quickly. It also values apprenticeships as a consistent investment that can really pay dividends in the long term. 8th Light CEO Paul Pagel adds: “There is a continuous, throughout the entire career, smaller, incremental investments that are driven by the individual crafter.”

Apprenticeships also dovetail with the modern business outlook of being self-resourceful, scalable, and flexible in order to cope with growing demands and increased competition. The schemes are beneficial in so many ways that companies are potentially at a major disadvantage if they don’t diversify their employment methods. Skills shortages are already here, and apprentices are arguably the best chance for the tech industry to build a strong and adaptable workforce for the future.

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