Breaking Into Tech with an Apprenticeship

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It’s always been hard to land a job in tech without real-world experience. Now, thanks to a recent expansion in apprenticeships, you can actually get paid for building your résumé and project portfolio.

Registered apprenticeships are perfect for newbies because they typically rely on an employer-driven, “learn while you earn” model that combines paid, on-the-job training with related classroom instruction that can lead to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

Programs such as A100 and apprentice.io focus on providing project experience to recent CS or bootcamp grads, “up-skillers” and career changers. Each program is unique; in order to maximize your time as an apprentice, you really need to understand your career goals and dig into the details.

Select the Right Program

“The primary goal of any apprenticeship is to provide gainful employment,” explained Gretchen Koch, executive director of Workforce Development Strategies for the Creating IT Futures Foundation.

The first thing to consider is whether a program’s hands-on training, technical projects and formal education will boost your marketability and give you the skills and practical experience to land a position in your desired field.

For instance, will you be working on real projects involving actual clients and stakeholders, or will you be working on training applications? Will you have the opportunity to attend conferences or earn degrees and certifications? Will you be able to rotate through a variety of companies and projects, and work with the latest tools, languages and methodologies? A robust program should not only help you master near-term duties and responsibilities, but also provide the foundation for the next step in your career.

Being an apprentice also gives you the opportunity to showcase your abilities. Consider whether the program has a “pipeline” that converts apprentices to full-time employees. Even if you have to hit the market after your apprenticeship, working at a marquee tech company lets you rub elbows with insiders while adding a high-profile name to your résumé.

To achieve a quality experience for the student, certain criteria must be met, according to Wyn Wilson, IT & electrical apprenticeships coach at Lansing Community College.

“For example, does the related technical instruction adequately prepare a student for on the job learning?” he asked. “Will the apprentice’s mentor be actively involved in the apprenticeship? Does the apprenticeship support current ‘Good Practices’ for the industry?”

Your Mentor is Key

Given that the typical IT apprenticeship can last from 600 to 6,000 hours, consider the chemistry with your potential mentor and how much time he or she will be spending with you. Ideally, a mentor should use pair programming or hands-on bench work to ensure continuous support and feedback.

Ask about expectations up front, because he or she will be reviewing your performance and possibly recommending you for a full-time position. In addition, mentoring under an influential member of the tech community can propel you from being an unknown novice to an up-and-coming professional in no time.

Calculate the ROI

Calculating your personal ROI depends on a number of variables. First, the starting pay for novices in a registered program averages around $15 per hour. However, you can earn raises as your skills increase; some jobs also provide additional benefits.

You shouldn’t have to pay a fee to participate in a legitimate apprenticeship program, but you may have to foot the bill for college tuition or certification exams. However, don’t let those costs deter you, because you may qualify for tuition assistance or Federal Pell Grants, Koch noted.

Finally, even though you may earn slightly less as an apprentice, consider the overall net gain. If an apprenticeship will put you on the right path for a position as a senior developer, PM or engineer, it’s well worth the investment.

Image Credit: SFIO CRACHO/Shutterstock.com

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