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RITEI Leverages Apprenticeship Buzz to Create Accessibility for In-Demand Tech Roles

January 17, 2023

At A Glance

The role of work-based learning models in promoting equitable opportunities for nontraditional learners.

Orrian Willis (TechSF, City and County of San Francisco)
Practices & Centers Topics

Despite recent high-profile tech layoffs, there are still tens of millions of job openings nationally, many of which are technology-related. These numbers seem to favor the jobseeker, yet individuals who lack a specific pedigree or years of experience can struggle to land a job in tech. Those with an associate’s degree or non-degree credential are often left out of these opportunities, especially as the tech industry continues to lean on established social connections for job candidate referrals.

In fact, the access and opportunity gap in the tech field has widened in recent years, making it easier for networked individuals with experience to obtain coveted opportunities over other potential candidates. And while tech companies consistently discuss the skills gaps prevalent in their industry, they may not consider workers who prepare for tech roles via community college, community-based organizations, or other workforce training programs.

Through accessible online coursework, mentorship, industry-recognized credentials, and work-based learning, RITEI students prepare for high-demand roles in IT support and related fields.

Apprenticeships are an ideal strategy for learners in the Rapid IT Training and Employment Initiative (RITEI)—and others hoping to enter the tech field—to train for these roles. TechSF has successfully placed more than 150 local apprentices in technical occupations, with over 92 percent of all apprentices retained in their companies since the apprenticeship program’s inception. This is a testament to the fact that effective apprenticeships in tech can be built and provide longstanding results for employers. Through the RITEI partnership, JFF is collaborating with TechSF to expand its established Registered Apprenticeship program and connections to leading tech enterprises. The aim is to help other companies understand how apprenticeships can boost their diversity and inclusion efforts, ease talent shortages, and enhance staff training to meet business demands.

Apprenticeship encompasses both off- and on-the-job learning, a dual prioritization that is key to preparing and retaining talent. When companies hire apprentices, they create a growing and more diverse talent pool. Further, apprenticeships can be built around a company’s talent needs, which is especially important in the ever-evolving tech landscape, where skill demands often change faster than degree programs can adjust.

While tech companies often elevate challenges to establishing apprenticeship programs, apprenticeships can provide natural talent solutions, as described below.

  • Challenge: Contingent, contractor, and sponsored employees make up a significant portion of the tech workforce.
    Solution: Apprenticeship programs can be built to support the transition of contractors to full-time, W2 wage-earning opportunities. For multiple companies, JFF and TechSF have supported hiring contracted staff who sit with, work directly with, and operate as key members of their teams with the goal of transitioning to a non-contractor role post-apprenticeship.
  • Challenge: Tech is not a monolith, but the term tech culture is often used to convey the general public’s understanding of and perceptions and attitudes about the tech industry. JFF’s May 2022 report Increasing Opportunities for Black Learners and Workers Within Digital & IT Careers found that “younger Black workers are more likely to view tech as an exclusive sector” and that “Black workers view mentorship as key to career success, and most don’t have access.” This indicates that there is a self-perpetuating narrative of tech culture as exclusive and unavailable to populations that have been underrepresented in or disconnected from careers in tech, and that this is creating additional inclusion barriers for this talent pool.
    Solution: Investors are beginning to take a stance on how they fund companies with limited diversity. BlackRock, for example, has funding goals associated with increasing Black and Latinx representation as well as the number of women of all backgrounds in technical and leadership roles. Companies like Twilio, Google, and LinkedIn have used their apprenticeship programs as a strategy for diversification, access, and opportunity for underrepresented and alternative education pathways talent. The results? Internal staffing culture shifts, diverse views on product design, cost savings on recruitment, lower turnover rates, and strong external partnerships, among other benefits. Bitwise, for example, sees apprenticeship as one of its primary hiring and training drivers to diversify the tech workforce, with placement rates above 90 percent.
  • Challenge: Tech changes quickly, and as a result, job requirements shift and roles can be made redundant as new roles emerge.
    Solution: As new occupations emerge, apprenticeship programs can be developed to create the talent pool employers need fast. Even more important, apprenticeships can be built in a competency-based format that creates the foundational skills workers need to stay agile as they progress in their career.

RITEI Readies Future IT Talent

TechSF is not alone in its efforts to use apprenticeship to shape the tech workforce of the future. In mid-2022, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia partnered with RITEI site JEVS Human Services to build an apprenticeship program, knowing that it needed to create a diverse pipeline of talent to support hiring roles specifically around IT. While apprenticeship is the gold standard, it takes time to build employer buy-in and commitment to the approach. RITEI sites that don’t offer apprenticeships are providing other innovative work-based learning opportunities. For example, Metropolitan Community College in Omaha gives learners the opportunity to engage with the existing tech workforce and build social capital through company tours and exposure days at local employer partners such as WP Engine, a division of WordPress. TechSF provides both virtual and in-person events with companies to help learners network, visualize themselves working in local companies, and better understand the day-to-day life of the tech workforce.

The demand for IT talent is not going away and despite the media buzz about layoffs, the job opportunities are still here.

RITEI is a strong example of locally trained, diverse talent pools that consist of early-career workers, career changers, underemployed individuals, and individuals looking for sustainable and exciting careers. RITEI sites are not alone in pursuing tech apprenticeship models. More and more tech apprenticeships are emerging to support the training-to-employment pipeline, especially since the U.S. Department of Labor prioritized information technology as a key industry for apprenticeship based on the high demand for talent.

An Industry With Opportunity

In recent months, the tech industry has experienced a volatile reckoning, with industry leaders acknowledging that their companies may have grown too fast. Approximately 146,000 tech workers were laid off in 2022, some in IT roles and others in company services such as marketing, sales, social media, and legal.

Despite the industry angst, companies are still adding IT and technical jobs rapidly, with more than 200,000 IT and tech-related job openings as of November 2022. Tech workers are found in all industries—including health care, finance, and manufacturing—and while some companies are purging talent, others are taking advantage of the moment to hire strategically.

The tech industry and tech-enabled employers have an opportunity. The demand for IT talent is not going away—as noted, it is still growing—and despite the media buzz about layoffs, the job opportunities are still here. But there are still employers seeking to grow and retain their workforce using all the traditional tech-hiring standbys.

Employers can continue to perpetuate workforce norms that prolong inequities or they can lead by initiating unique, innovative, and paid apprenticeship experiences for untapped talent eager to work. Meanwhile, RITEI partners will continue to shape the future of America’s workforce by training local talent for local opportunities that enable diverse learners to enter high-demand tech careers. The opportunity is right in front of you.

Connect with JFF—and RITEI

Stay connected to this work to learn more about the strides RITEI is making in inclusive tech.

Sign up below to receive research briefs, information on implementation lessons, and invitations to public events and webinars, or to connect with RITEI sites to learn more about how to get involved in local implementations in Denver, Philadelphia, Omaha, Dallas, and San Francisco.

And be sure to follow JFF on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

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