Opening Up Career Pathways: One Partner’s Blueprint to a Successful Apprenticeship Program

Learn how your IT training organization can implement an apprenticeship program as a way to open doors for your learners.

One Partner’s Blueprint to a Successful Apprenticeship ProgramIt’s no surprise that the labor market trends for tech occupations anticipate that growth will outpace demands. New work-based learning approaches are needed to increase the supply of workers to fill these roles, and apprenticeship opportunities can attract more job seekers who did not previously consider a tech career.

During a session at Partner Summit 2023, one partner explained how they built a successful apprenticeship program using CompTIA Apprenticeships for Tech and how it resulted in new business services and a skilled and diverse talent pool sought by organizations nationwide. Here’s what they had to say.

What Is CompTIA Apprenticeships for Tech?

Many organizations today face great challenges when it comes to finding, hiring, skilling and retaining IT and cybersecurity talent, but that doesn’t have to be the case. CompTIA’s Apprenticeships for Tech (CAFT) was created to build a talent and skills pipeline for IT and cybersecurity that is highly skilled, dependable and responsive to real workplace needs.

CAFT was developed by CompTIA in partnership with American Institutes for Research (AIR) and is supported through funding from the U.S. Department of Labor.

This program offers a pathway for employers to connect with a diverse and talented pool of job-ready learners who are seeking tech employment. CAFT works with organizations in a variety of ways depending on their needs, including:  

  • Connecting organizations with candidates who are pre-screened, ready to work—and in some cases, already trained
  • Exploring how learners and an organization will benefit if they continue their training on the job as part of a registered apprenticeship program
  • Learning how apprenticeship programs can build a robust talent pipeline for entry-level roles through the upskilling of current staff

“Basically, the way this works is it is expanding apprenticeships outside of the trades, which is what we are all very familiar with, you know, carpenters, electricians, that sort of thing. The Department of Labor funds these things,” said Richard Braden, managing director, CompTIA Apprenticeships for Tech, CompTIA.

“It isn’t really a program that’s focused on students because they’re there. If you have a program set up they’ll find you. It’s really about developing the infrastructure in the market, which is what I do. So, why do something different? Because hiring in tech is a huge problem for employers,” he said.

Why Apprenticeships?

“You’re probably ahead of the curve if you’re looking at an apprenticeship as a solution for your hiring challenges,” said Jennifer Mathis, vice president of career training, ACI Learning. “From an employer perspective and whether you’re a training provider that’s serving students who are entering the job market, the landscape is really competitive,” she said. “An apprenticeship is not just the entry point. It could be the way that employers are developing their talent internally.”

Apprenticeships require a shift in how many organizations think about both new talent and upskilling their internal staff. “But apprenticeship is not new. This is not a new thing, the UK has been doing this forever and has done very well and I’m just impressed that we finally got our arms around it,” Mathis said.

“And even though we’re still learning, we’re here to drive awareness, so if there is anything you can take away from this is go have another conversation with a colleague, a partner, a student of yours and find out if they would be interested in an apprenticeship and just learn more about it,” she said.

It is clear that the current tech hiring landscape is already challenging, with many organizations struggling to find and retain the tech talent they need to support their businesses. “And from an HR perspective, we see three in four HR professionals expect an even more challenging hiring environment over the next twelve months,” said Garrett Fleishman, senior manager, business development, CompTIA.

When it comes to building talent, many business and talent leaders don’t know that these sorts of programs exist, Mathis explained. “When you think about apprenticeship as a whole in the job market, they represent less than 5% of workers in the United States. There are 168 million people going to work every day, that [5%] is not a very big sector of the market. So, then you narrow that down to tech [apprenticeships], which is an innovation, there really isn’t a lot of awareness here,” Fleishman said.

Apprenticeship can be a very logical solution to talent constraints, but in order for programs like this to gain traction, there has to be awareness.

ACI’s Journey to Building an Apprenticeship Program

ACI recognized that their learners had an experience gap. With a lot of them being career changers, they had to find a way to give them relevant IT experience they could put on their resumes so that they could be more competitive when ACI positioned them with their employer partners.

“We tried a grassroots internship program locally, and that was great, but it wasn’t enough, it wasn’t formal enough for employers to just jump on board.” Mathis said. “And there was a lot of leg work we had to do to help them understand what this is and why they should engage with us. So, when we connected with Richard [Braden], this whole program made complete sense and it elevated everything we were already doing, formalized it and gave us the pitch to go to employers with to say, ‘this is why you need to do this and here’s going to be the benefit for you and the apprentices that you bring on.’”

But once you implement the program, socialization is incredibly important. You have to have as many conversations with as many people as you can, Mathis explained.

“A perfect example, on Tuesday night during the initial opening [of the tech vendor fair], I just walked the floor for a bit. I talked to five vendors. Most of them were looking to position their products to MSPs. I asked if they were hiring tech talent, entry-level tech talent. All five said ‘of course.’ I said, ‘well, how can we help you? We have an apprenticeship program, we can pipeline talent for you, let’s talk.’ They said, ‘thank you,’” Mathis said.

But finding employer partners that are willing to work with your training organization can be a challenge, she explained. ACI aims to make it as simple as possible for employers to partner with them.

“One of the biggest things employers are concerned about is the compliance side of this, and the risk. So we have an internal compliance department who manages a system, it’s called Rapids, which is the Department of Labor system. It tracks all of the apprenticeship work. We do that for the employer partners, we try to take as much off their plate as we can.”

Once an employer partner decides to participate they must commit to a twelve month program with an apprenticeship wage and then an increase around the six month mark, or once the apprentice has met those competencies that have been outlined, Mathis explained.

And many employers can take advantage of grants, both at the federal and state level, so if an employer needs to hire another team member to serve in a mentor role for an apprentice, there are often grant dollars to help them do that.

Ultimately, apprenticeships are a great solution for tech talent shortages, but awareness is key factor to driving their success.

Interested in implementing an apprenticeship program as a way to open career pathways for your learners? Find out more!

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