The Apprenticeship Report

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

Lonnie Emard, Apprenticeship Director

WHEN YOU HAVE 10,000 tech jobs to fill and only 700 tech grads in a year—statewide—you have to get creative, and that’s where registered apprenticeships come in. The entire concept of apprenticeships flies in the face of all the tired old patterns of traditional hiring.

In the past, when companies wanted to hire new people at a professional level, most HR departments insisted on a minimum of a four-year degree. Others may have loosened up enough to say, “or equivalent experience.” And if they couldn’t find the person they were looking for through the usual channels, they turned to an outside staffing firm who would scour the known universe to find the person to fill that unique need. (For an additional fee, of course.)

It was slow, and predictable, and it solved one hiring problem at a time for a surprisingly long while. Then Information Technology knocked the business world off its axis, and suddenly the old model wouldn’t cut it anymore. The demand for IT talent is just too great.

So where is all this needed tech talent going to come from? My answer is, Look around you. It can, and will, come from anywhere. But for that to happen, both potential employers and potential employees must recognize that we’re in no less than a paradigm shift—one that requires us all to view the world with new eyes.

Once we open our minds to it, we start to see lots of new channels of potential candidates. If you are a corporate person reading this: Look within your own company. There may well be people there with IT aptitude—not to mention deep domain knowledge of your company—who just need to be trained in the technical skills for an IT role.

Consider the alternative: If it’s a new hire you’re pursuing and you’ve gone to your traditional channel, colleges and universities, we all know there are going to be winners and losers there. If there are thousands of tech jobs to fill in the state of Arkansas and only hundreds of tech grads, well, that’s a mighty huge gap. And even if your company is successful in campus recruiting, you’re still getting someone who doesn’t have the knowledge of your business and your culture that your present employee does. So why not look “at home” first?

But let’s go back a minute to that university recruiting situation. If you do go this route and there aren’t enough tech grads, open your eyes a little wider: What about grads in Geography? Or Sociology? Or Music? These liberal arts grads may have gravitated to these majors because they loved the subjects, but now they’re getting out of school and their job prospects are limited. Don’t overlook them. Remember, aptitude is the key word here, and today there are good, reliable tests for aptitude. You don’t need to be a statistics major to do many IT jobs.

At ACDS, it is our mission to be a catalyst for success, which means that we must make sure both potential employers and potential employees are aware of the new paradigm and how they each fit into it. We must have a strong, consistent message to academia, to business, to economic development, to the media. We must be more vocal with parents, in addition to their children who are students, telling them about the kinds of jobs that are going to be available in Arkansas.

In an apprenticeship culture, we cast a very wide net. We’ll be making a concerted effort to get our message out to veterans and the military; to recently displaced workers; to people who find themselves underemployed; to the handicapped; to folks in rural areas; and we definitely need more females and minorities in the IT profession. Our message is a compelling one: You can change the trajectory of your life.

There are organizations that work with all of these different groups of people, but their representatives don’t necessarily know enough about IT occupations and careers to explain it to them. So that’s where they need an ACDS, an overarching statewide body that can connect all the pieces. These organizations have the audience we need to reach, and we have the message that that audience needs to hear.

When you finally bring those two together, amazing things happen. “I don’t have a degree,” someone will say. “I don’t have money for training.” And our answer is, You don’t need a degree. You don’t need money. Because if we can take them through an assessment to show that they have some logic, some analytic skills, some math aptitude, it doesn’t matter even if they didn’t do well in school—maybe they did poorly for totally irrelevant reasons.

But now, if we can take that larger pool and run those people through a process by which they find they have interest and we determine that they have capability, now we can help them fit into an employer’s culture and organization. What employers get is a much broader talent pool—but not only that, they can tap this talent sooner than in the old way, trusting that we together will know how to train these apprentices and give them the skills they need in order to contribute and be productive quickly.

This has been the model of successful apprenticeship programs in other fields for years. Now, in this new age of the IT paradigm, we’re breaking new ground here in Arkansas. Watch this space for more updates!