Building Pathways to Success: The Importance of Apprenticeships in Tech 

January 09, 2023
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Checkr Editor

Apprenticeship programs in technology and the knowledge based economy offer previously untapped talent new pathways into careers that will provide the foundation for the future of work and bring promising benefits for organizations of all sizes.this blog was written by executive director of checkr.org, ken oliver.

There is a growing trend that offers promise to often overlooked talent who want to access careers in the tech sector and the knowledge based economy. Apprenticeships are being adopted by tech and knowledge based companies as a way to develop their own talent sources while also providing reskilling and training to justice-impacted and non-traditional talent to prepare them for careers in tech and the future of work.

Companies are also finding the apprenticeship model as an effective entry point for developing their diversity and inclusion initiatives and as a way to increase their business and social impact outcomes. Apprenticeships are transforming people's lives, businesses, and paving the way to a fairer future of work.

The challenge

It is important to note why apprenticeships can play such an important role in reskilling our untapped talent pools. America is the only country in the world where one-third of its eligible workforce population has an arrest or conviction record.

Every year more than 600,000 of these eligible workers will exit incarceration and return to their respective communities with little more than hope of being able to rebuild their lives through sustainable employment. For many, this hope remains unrealized.

The unemployment rate for Americans who suffer from an arrest or conviction record remains a startling 27%. When we factor in skill gaps and the digital divide it’s not surprising that 45% of these men and women remain unemployed one full year after being released back to the community. The remaining 55% fare little better with median reported earnings just over $10,000 during the same time frame.

How is this possible? The simplest answer lies within the folds of the justice system we’ve created; one that has more than 48,000 collateral consequences (federal and state statutes, regulations, and civil disabilities) that act as barriers preventing individuals with conviction histories from being able to access sustainable employment, housing, occupational licensing, and economic stability. These unnecessary and punitive barriers present often insurmountable challenges for people to rebuild their lives and often locks them into cycles of poverty and any meaningful opportunity to access the middle class economy.

The stigma and false narrative about people who suffer arrest or conviction histories is often rooted in issues involving systemic racism and often causes employers to look away and exclude this rich but often untapped talent pool.

Blanket exclusionary hiring practices exacerbate this intractable social challenge and ignores the practical reality that we can’t practice true diversity, equity, and inclusion if we are excluding one-third of the American workforce. On the other hand, the data shows that when we incorporate diversity and inclusion that imagines a cornucopia of lived experiences into our businesses, it's a proven recipe to drive bottom line success and measurable social impact.

The role of apprenticeships

Apprenticeship programs have traditionally been used by trade industries (carpentry, electrician, construction, etc) as a way to train unskilled labor or those early in their careers. Apprenticeship programs add tremendous value to employers to: recruit and develop highly-skilled talent, address labor shortages, improve productivity, profitability, minimize liability costs of attrition and hiring, receive tax credits, and increase employee retention.

This same model is now being used more and more by leading-edge tech companies to provide alternative pathways and earn-and-learn training for justice-impacted and other individuals.

Slack, for example, is one of many companies to launch an apprenticeship model through its project the Next Chapter with partners The Last Mile, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and FREEAMERICA. Founded in 2018, Next Chapter is, ‘a pilot program designed to shift perceptions about the potential of formerly incarcerated individuals and to generate new opportunities in skilled, long-term employment in the technology sector. ’ Since finding success during the initial pilot, 30 individuals have graduated from Next Chapter’s apprenticeship program receiving full-time employment offers from its network of hiring partners including Zoom, Dropbox, Square, PayPal and Asana.  Next month, I will feature Asana’s apprenticeship program, AsanaUp, and explore what has made their program so successful.

Apprenticeship programs offer an opportunity for tech and other knowledge based companies to grow their own talent pipelines with minimal investment when juxtaposed against the costs of attrition and hiring new traditionally sourced talent. Studies estimate that every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it costs 6 to 9 months’ salary on average. For a manager making $60,000 a year, that's $30,000 to $45,000 in recruiting and training expenses. According to one 2019 study, tech companies face a serious risk with an average turnover rate of 20.9 %, the fourth highest overall behind retail, manufacturing, and consumer goods.

The payoff for apprentices is also clear: 91% of apprentices find employment after completing their program, and their average starting wage is above $60,000.

While tech companies have generally been on the forefront of innovation — sourcing and acquiring talent in tech still has opportunity for optimization. The same growth mindset responsible for tech success the last 30 years needs to be applied to the way employers identify and source talent and create broader and more inclusive opportunities.

Not only do apprenticeships represent a remarkable opportunity to accomplish this, but they also provide us a demonstrable way to build a fairer future of work that will reflect the realities of the workforce of tomorrow. Apprenticeship programs specifically aimed at identifying, sourcing, and recruiting the tens of millions of people with records has never been more important.

Why now?

In order to build a fairer future of work,  analysis of the landscape and what challenges we face is critical. Now, and in the immediate future, we will be forced to address:

1. Talent shortages

While short-term fluctuations like layoffs and low unemployment numbers tell a slightly different story, the ongoing talent shortage is a real, long-term, structural challenge. According to World Bank projections, over the next decade, the number of people of working age (between 15 and 65), will decline in a variety of countries. The US also has a significant declining birth rate. As of 2020, the US birth rate has dropped by almost 20% since 2007.

And the US Chamber of Commerce reports 11.2 million open jobs in the US and only 6 million unemployed workers.

I recently expanded on this issue in an article about the labor market case for fair chance hiring.

2. Growing skills gap

According to McKinsey, 87% of enterprises know they have a major skills gap or will have one within a few years. Investment in skills and workforce training has continually fallen since the 1970s. Forbes predicts that everyone will need skills in digital literacy, data literacy, technical skills (not just for those in AI or computer science roles, but also for carpenters, nurses, and truck drivers), and digital threat awareness. Workers across industries— from accounting to sales to utility and delivery workers — are spending increasing amounts of time using tools that require digital skills, yet the United States ranks just 29th out of 100 countries for the digital acumen of its workforce in business, technology, and data science, according to Coursera.

3. Demographic makeup of the workforce of tomorrow

The new US Census Bureau statistics project that the nation will become “minority white” in 2045. During that year, whites will comprise 49.7% of the population. We also face a rapidly aging population: nearly half of the country will be in their 40s or older by 2040, according to research from the University of Virginia. Furthermore, researchers from the Harvard Kennedy School Carr Center for Human Rights Policy predict that the number of Americans living with a criminal record will rise above 100 million by the year 2030.

Our demographic makeup is changing, and our workforce needs to change with it. The EEOC published a report in 2014 that found 63.5% to 68.5% of those employed in the high tech sector identified as white, compared to the overall private industry. We have to proactively create new channels of sourcing, recruiting, and training employees to actively build representative teams who reflect the growing diversity in our country.

The benefits of tech apprenticeships

Strengthen diversity

Apprenticeships show us that we can diversify and bridge the gender and racial equity gaps still persisting in tech. Krysti Specht, Director at the Center for Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning at Jobs for the Future and Orrian Willis, Senior Workforce Development Specialist at TechSF have been working to help organizations implement and scale apprenticeship programs that help underrepresented talent upskill and break into tech.

On apprenticeships, Orrian mentioned an often-cited quote in his line of work, “Talent is distributed equally, but opportunity is not.”

People without traditional 4-year degrees, who may not have been able to afford university, or who may have been incarcerated for a period of time, often have the ambition and ability to be successful in tech careers—if only given the opportunity.

If hiring a representative workforce is a priority at your company in the coming years, you need to start thinking about how you can open doors to underrepresented talent.

And in the name of equity, you’re also given the opportunity to train employees with the skills they will need to be successful with you.

Foster internal talent

An apprenticeship program also provides you the runway to train potential employees in the skills and knowledge you know they will need to move your company forward. The ability to foster talent internally leads to stronger business outcomes and longer employee retention.

If an apprentice is trained in your processes, your technology, and in your work culture, they are now prepared to successfully navigate through your organization, leveraging the mission-critical skills prioritized during apprenticeship training.

Krysti said, “You are training the apprentice to become an integral component in the fabric of your organization.” Through apprenticeship, you can skill candidates up to meet your exact needs — and in the highly competitive market of tech talent, apprenticeships empower employers to hire from a wider pool of applicants.

Widen candidate pools

We simply don’t have the number of people with tech-specific degrees coming out of college to fill the growing need for this type of employee. Coupled with Korn Ferry’s research in “Future of Work Findings,” finding that we can expect to see an estimated total talent deficit of 85 million workers in 2030, resulting in $8.452 trillion in unrealized revenue globally, we begin to understand the necessity of reskilling and upskilling untapped talent pools for the perpetuation of US business success.

Similarly, Nextgov found that, “If America could train just five million workers for digital jobs in the next five years, it would drive an estimated $250 billion more in US GDP growth.” When we source our candidates from the same Ivy League schools, we do nothing to help gender equity or build representative and diverse workforces. Moreover, the university to employment talent pipeline simply will not meet the demands of a rapidly growing digital economy.

On the benefits of internal training through apprenticeship, Krysti stated, “It’s a choice for the company to make. Do you want to spin your wheels trying to find this talent that’s elusive and you don’t know where to find it? Or do you want to help people cultivate their skills and keep them at your company for a longer period of time?”

While apprenticeships require an upfront investment, it’s one that pays dividends. Both in terms of your company’s bottom line, but also by making meaningful change in people’s lives, investing in the economy, and creating a team of people prepared for the challenges that will come in the future. As Orrian remarked, “Companies who get good at apprenticeship programs will have a competitive edge over companies that don’t.”

Apprenticeships for a fairer future of work

Many businesses want to become better employers and have a wider impact on their communities, but they’re not sure how. An apprenticeship model presents a scalable solution to source and develop top talent, reskill determined and loyal employees, and set them up for career advancement and success within your organization.

Jeffrey Korzenik, Chief Economist at Fifth Third Commercial Bank and author of Untapped Talent: How Second Chance Hiring Works for Your Business and Community, said in a recent interview, “Ultimately, employment is foundational to giving people with records the chance to rebuild their lives, so the businesses need to be involved. Nonprofits and governments bring unique and valuable skills to this societal problem, but job creation is the expertise of the private sector.”

As business leaders, hiring managers, executives, and members of the business community, I invite you to consider the untapped potential of opening your doors to this group of talented individuals; whether through internal programming or by working with a partner to source and place justice-impacted candidates.

If you’d like to partner with Checkr to learn more about starting a fair chance, apprenticeship, or hiring program at your company, please contact Ken.oliver@checkr.com.

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“Talent is distributed equally, but opportunity is not.” 
Orrian Willis, Senior Workforce Development Specialist

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