The Apprenticeship Report: November 2020

A headshot of an older man with blonde hair wearing a blue suit jacket and yellow shirt.

Lonnie Emard,
Apprenticeship Director

WE ARE NEARLY a year into this apprenticeship rollout in the state of Arkansas, and over that time a couple of things have proven to be true. One is that employers have begun to grasp the full impact of this non-traditional hiring strategy, in which a broader pool of diverse candidates—maybe those without a computer science degree, say—is trained effectively and becomes productive quickly, thus helping solve the employer’s tech talent problem while reinforcing the strategic wisdom of the employer’s investment in that person. As of this writing, some 40 Arkansas employers have sponsored their own apprentices in occupations as varied as Software Developer, Data Analyst, IT Generalist, Cybersecurity Specialist, and more, and at least five or six companies are already on round two in terms of their next apprenticeship cohort. Repeat customers are satisfied customers.

The second truth involves the experience of the potential apprentice. Pre-COVID, ACDS had already processed some 3,000 folks through our applicant tracking system, and we’re now inviting thousands of unemployed or underemployed Arkansans to take our free assessment test to see if they have the aptitude, or even the desire, to be trained for a career in Information Technology. This initiative, branded as ReSkill Arkansas, is a joint program with the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services and the Office of Skills Development. The pre-apprenticeship training is being offered for free, and ACDS is providing coaching to those who complete pathways toward specific IT entry-level jobs.

But as we’ve continued to study and refine the differentiators of what makes a good apprenticeship candidate to put before an employer, we’ve learned that if the candidate has had some actual work experience in the IT field, it goes a long way toward creating confidence on the part of the employer. The experiential piece of this model is termed “work-based learning” and ACDS will be adding this component to the model in 2021.

At ACDS, we sometimes think of ourselves as being a “bridge” between employers and tech talent, and the bridge runs both ways. If a potential apprentice demonstrates the desire to take the assessment, and then demonstrates the capability to complete the pre-apprenticeship and work-based training, then we think they’ve walked halfway across that bridge.

But that’s still not enough to complete the successful hiring solution. The employer can’t just wait on the other side of the bridge and say, “Well, when you’re ready—when you’ve got everything I need, then I’ll hire you.” Because that’s the old model.

That paradigm shift is step one. The second step is for the employer to embrace the apprenticeship model to successfully develop and retain the productive new IT professional. ACDS has proven that that concept works—as I said earlier, 40 Arkansas employers of all sizes have already gained an advantage from it, and we anticipate the number of employers benefiting from IT apprenticeships to triple in 2021.

What we’re saying is, Employers, take a couple of steps toward this much broader and more diverse candidate pool. Once you take those two steps toward them and they’ve taken two steps toward you, you’ve got a complete bridge. And these candidates now walk across that bridge into full employment in the state of Arkansas. They’re off the unemployment rolls. They’re fully equipped to be productive citizens. And companies have found what they’ve long needed—a ready and willing tech talent pool right here at home.