How Apprenticeships Could Address the Tech Worker Shortage

As companies seek workers with the right skills amidst a technologist shortage, apprenticeships are an option to consider.

These tuition-free, paid programs serve as an alternative path for technologists to gain experience without going into student debt from a four-year degree. However, they can also supplement a university education.

“By reframing the focus to hire for potential rather than pedigree, organizations can widen their talent pool considerably, building a more representative workforce without compromising on quality,” said Sophie Ruddock, vice president and general manager of Multiverse US, which provides apprenticeships in programs that include business operations, data science and software engineering.

Often an apprenticeship combines classroom learning with hands-on training, explains Jennifer Carlson, co-founder of Apprenti, a company that serves an intermediary for companies looking to hire outside the usual process.

Apprenticeships at Apprenti last one to three years and lack prerequisites besides learning to perform a specific role, Carlson said. Apprentices differ from interns, who are usually enrolled in a bachelor’s or master’s program. Interns also try several roles during their time in college, and their programs usually last three to six months. Meanwhile, apprentices earn a certificate from the U.S. Department of Labor.

“Employers agree to mentor an apprentice for a period of time, pay them a training wage to learn and develop into a retainable level in a specific job,” Carlson said.

Apprenticeships are relatively new in the United States but more established in European and Asian cultures, according to Carlson. To participate, apprentices require basic skills in math and problem solving.

Apprenticeships Can Address the Diversity Gap

Universities are still a primary source of talent for tech companies, but underserved communities are often unable to afford a college education. Apprenticeships can potentially help solve this diversity gap in tech.

“Apprenticeship can take people of all ages, reskill them and get them into mid-level tech roles through this combination of classroom and mentored on-the-job training faster than we currently produce talent, and allow an opening for diverse groups to access a way into the sector that can meet US economic mobility goals at the same time,” Carlson said.

Companies such as Apprenti recruit diverse talent from non-tech backgrounds, including minorities, veterans and people with disabilities. Carlson adds that 85 percent of Apprenti’s placements are diverse, including BIPOC, Latino/a/x, Native American/Pacific Islander, mixed race, women, veterans, or people with disabilities.

Meanwhile, of the apprentices that Multiverse has placed, 53 percent are Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), 52 percent are women and 36 percent come from underserved communities.

“People of color are often most negatively impacted by the current higher-education model,” Ruddock said. “Black students leave with $25,000 more student debt than their white counterparts and 72 percent of Black Americans do not have a college degree. But a degree gets you into high-paying, high-growth jobs.”

What Apprentices Learn

At Apprenti, apprentices learn software languages such as C#, Java and Python. They also study SEO, social media, digital marketing and data visualization.

According to Carlson, if an apprentice received on-the-job training on how to use a Salesforce customer relationship management (CRM) application, navigate dashboards, and perform core analytics, they would be qualified for a Salesforce administration position when they complete the apprenticeship, and could later become a Salesforce engineer.

Ruddock explained the benefits of working exclusively with one company under an apprenticeship rather than the theoretical knowledge with a typical degree: “Because apprentices are working at a company from day one, they are immediately focused on gaining proficiency in a tech stack, learning theoretical concepts while also applying them in real time.”

Apprenticeships also provide opportunity for reskilling technologists amid displacement due to digital disruption, Ruddock added.

Multiverse, a company run by Euan Blair, the son of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, raised $220 million in June to expand its apprenticeship program. The company works with tech companies such as Box, Cisco, Verizon and Visa. The program comprises applied learning, in which participants learn for more than 12 months on the job as a fully employed worker embedded with a team and earn a salary between $50,000 and $70,000 from the start with benefits.

At Multiverse, apprentices train in data analytics and software engineering. A 12-week bootcamp includes skills such as JavaScript and algorithmic problem solving. Apprentices get placed in a “front-end or back-end pathway” with an employer, Ruddock said, adding: “Along the way apprentices have the opportunity to work with colleagues and managers on real world projects—debugging a line of code, building new website features or running community management programs—depending on their program.”

Going forward, apprenticeships provide a solution to the tech worker shortage and help workers avoid the economic challenges of a four-year degree. “If we rely on the same mechanisms for hiring, we will not get any closer to solving the tech worker shortage,” Ruddock said.

With a tuition-free, applied learning approach, apprenticeships could provide the right formula to launch technologists into careers. “Because there hasn’t been an alternative to accessing these careers—apprenticeships are a really important way to changing the status quo,” Ruddock said.