The Apprenticeship Report: November 2019

A half green and gray image that says "The Apprenticeship Report."

Lonnie Emard,

Apprenticeship Director

IN PAST ISSUES, I’ve talked about the “why” and “who” of registered apprenticeships, and this month I want to discuss the “how.” What I mean by that is training.

We live in a world in which tech skills have become so specialized that no apprenticeship candidate arrives with all the knowledge that he or she is going to need in order to immediately contribute in the workplace. Back in the dark ages of computer science, engineers could do a little bit of everything—they gathered requirements, designed systems, wrote the code, tested the code, and implemented the system. Today those are all unique occupations that come together in teams. So somebody who’s doing a coding apprenticeship to become a programmer or a software developer has a very specialized role, and the same can be said of web designer, cyber-security specialist, data analyst, and so on. And then of course every company uses IT in different ways. In this environment, how is an employer to be certain that an apprentice or job candidate has exactly the right skillset?

Such a situation puts a premium on the evaluators of training content, and that, it turns out, is a role that we at ACDS find ourselves playing. More and more, it falls to us to communicate to corporate Arkansas who’s doing the apprenticeship training, how we’re ensuring that the material is spot on, that the candidates have potential, and that their trained skills will match what the employer is looking for. There is a process to this, of course, and it begins with our knowing—and totally understanding—the requirements of the employers. If one is looking for a cybersecurity analyst, we have to know specifically what kinds of things that person will be asked to do in that job, and therefore what skills they need to have. How do we know this? We become the experts by going to the experts.

For example, for an upcoming cyber-security apprenticeship program, ACDS approached the American Cyber Alliance (ACA) to become the training provider. ACA has access to some of the best minds in the cybersecurity field, people who aren’t just instructors but who have worked in the profession, whether for the Department of Defense or the military or in private business.

That’s a great example of the kinds of experts we’re working with to provide skill training for apprenticeship programs in the state of Arkansas. But our job doesn’t stop at just bringing their expertise to bear on our training programs. We evaluate whether or not their material is current, especially if they’ve taught such courses over and over. We want to be the conduit to the most current material and to make sure they add cutting-edge training to their curriculum. We also want them to provide labs and the kind of an environment that simulates, as closely as possible, what a person is going to be doing on the job.

With ACA, before we started the cybersecurity training we brought in some employers to look at the curriculum built by these experts. These employers had a chance to tweak it—“a little bit less of this, a little more of that.” This way, we ended up with an agreement by multiple businesses that our training aligned with their needs, meaning that our apprentices will be more likely to assimilate easily into their organizations and become productive as quickly as possible.

We call groups like ACA our “training partners,” and we’re partnering in the same way with such organizations as the University of Arkansas Global Campus in NWA, which does continuing education, and the Arkansas Coding Academy in Conway. There are two good reasons this model works so effectively: One, it’s employer driven, and two, ACDS acts as the evaluator to ensure that our apprentice programs are providing the right skills. This way the companies start with something that’s proven, something they can trust. The rest of the process becomes the companies’ implementation.

As ACDS Executive Director Bill Yoder says elsewhere in this newsletter, “ACDS must act as a catalyst for tech talent, making sure that our state’s supply is sufficient to meet the demand.” That’s a job that always has three components: an employer needing people with a certain skillset, candidates with the potential to fill that need, and the right training program to build those increasingly specialized skills. ACDS is committed to being the organization that delivers on equipping this new tech workforce in a way that’s clearly different from traditional education. It’s employer based, it’s hands on, it’s real time, and it’s applied so that everyone can say, Yeah, that’s different.

And I would say, “At the intersection of capability and opportunity lies the road to success”—in fact, that may be the title of the next apprenticeship report!