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Tech-Focused Apprenticeships Need Employer Engagement to Thrive

Tech companies can’t wait around for their workforce to meet their needs. If these employers get engaged in apprenticeship, they can actively build their talent pools.

April 2, 2020

At a Glance

Tech companies can’t wait around for their workforce to meet their needs. If these employers get engaged in apprenticeship, they can actively build their talent pools.

Tech careers are growing at astronomical rates. According to CompTIA, in 2017 the U.S. tech industry:

  • Added 194,000 new jobs
  • Had 2.8 million job postings
  • Ranked as the sixth highest occupation in job creation
  • Paid an average annual salary of $112,890—more than double average national wages

However, this fast growth has presented a problem to the field: the qualified talent pool has largely dried up. At the end of 2017, nearly 500,000 tech postings were unfilled nationally. If employers are not able to fill open positions, they risk slowing their growth or stagnating completely.

In pockets across the United States, apprenticeship is proving a useful tool for tech companies that want to increase their workforce rather than wait for workers to come to them. Companies including LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Airbnb have all launched apprenticeship programs to fill their ranks and help diversify their workforces with hires outside of their standard process.

Nationally, programs like Apprenti and Techtonic are helping to pair talent with tech roles:

  • Founded in 2016 by the Washington Technology Industry Association, Apprenti works with companies like Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, Huntington Bank, Microsoft, and scores of other tech companies to place apprentices into middle-skills jobs with good wages. Through its first two full years, the program received more than 8,500 applicants and placed over 350 apprentices into tech positions. Apprenti provides a proven pipeline for underrepresented groups, such as minorities, women, and veterans, to gain training, industry-recognized certifications, and paid apprenticeships within the tech industry.
  • Boulder, Colorado-based Techtonic developed an innovative software engineer Registered Apprenticeship program that works with a range of community-based organizations and local workforce agencies to recruit candidates from traditionally underrepresented populations, including those without a degree. As of August, 75 people have launched careers through Techtonic’s program.

Although apprenticeships in tech are too new for us to have a full understanding of long-term impact, the model’s successful track record in providing a return on investment to employers in numerous other industries suggests a promising future for tech companies looking to get involved.

Yet, many in the industry are unaware of apprenticeships or think of them as belonging to the building trades. If the tech sector fully embraced apprenticeships as a talent development strategy, it could transform the workforce, turn unfilled positions into productive roles, and increase the diversity of the industry.

Intermediaries and community colleges are pivoting to help this new brand of employer navigate apprenticeships. In doing so, they’re finding that tech employers differ from traditional apprenticeship businesses. Those working with tech employers have needed to change their methods and build more flexibility into their usual practices to be attractive to this burgeoning sector.

Our recent paper, Effective Employer Engagement Practices: Observations from Select Technology Apprenticeship Programs, pulls up lessons learned from eight American Apprentice Initiative grantees who worked to build apprenticeships in the tech sector:

  1. Tech employers are unfamiliar with apprenticeships or need information to dispel common myths.
  2. Those reaching out to employers should speak industry language (for example: “talent” instead of “participant”).
  3. Partnerships with local technology councils are key.
  4. Develop a program with the employer and with their needs in mind.
  5. Be flexible—consider changing program content, delivery methods, and schedules to best serve employers and their apprentices.
  6. Bring employers to the table with incentives, such as funding college credits or providing stipends.
  7. Diversify the tech workforce by aligning with employers’ HR practices.
  8. Develop a group sponsorship model to bring in multiple employers.

More than anything, organizations hoping to collaborate with tech employers on building apprenticeship programs must truly work with them as partners, not recipients or targets. These quality partnerships can lead to the creation of successful apprenticeship programs that set the example for the broader tech industry, providing a path to rewarding careers for thousands of Americans.

This blog was funded by the generous support of as part of JFF’s Apprenticeship Awareness and Expansion Initiative. The national initiative expands apprenticeship and other high-quality, structured work-based learning programs through on-the-ground technical assistance and a resource and communications campaign.