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Treehouse Uses Apprenticeship to Grow Diversity in Tech

Seeing a need across the industry, Treehouse has developed a business model from placing underrepresented workers into tech apprenticeships.

March 20, 2020

At a Glance

Seeing a need across the industry, Treehouse has developed a business model from placing underrepresented workers into tech apprenticeships.

Londa Quisling, Former Chief Product Officer, Treehouse

To learn how Treehouse and others are implementing practices to increase diversity in their apprenticeship programs, read 4 Strategies for Incorporating Equity and Diversity in Your Apprenticeship Program.

Strategies for Growing Equity & Diversity in Apprenticeship Programs

There is a true market for apprenticeship in the tech industry. We should know—an important part of our business is in training and placing tech apprentices.

At Treehouse, we help companies hire software developers and product designers. Our mission is to provide access to tech career opportunities for people of all locations and backgrounds. We do this by providing the training and foundational skills people need to succeed in tech careers and then directly connecting them with job opportunities through apprenticeship placements.

We started with a self-paced online curriculum that was affordable and accessible. Students learn the technical and workplace skills needed for an entry-level position as a developer or user experience designer. But our students still found themselves getting boxed out of the tech industry because they typically didn’t have the traditional qualifications to get a foot in the door, such as a four-year college degree or interpersonal networks of professional contacts.

Because we work largely with nontraditional candidates, companies often hire us to help them improve the diversity of their workforces. However, we have to combat the perception that companies must recruit people with degrees to avoid “lowering the bar” on their hiring standards.

We needed to find a way to help tech companies see the value and promise that we saw in our nontraditional students. Apprenticeships were the answer.

Apprenticeships Changing the Workplace

Apprenticeships combine the technical education we were already providing with additional on-the-job training. This benefits both the trainees, who receive real experience in jobs where they can put their learning to use, and the employers, who can use the apprenticeships as extended job interviews with our participants.

We built partnerships with community partners such as the Boys & Girls Club of Portland and Dress for Success that enabled us to reach more nontraditional candidates and bring them into our six-month Techdegree course—a pre-apprenticeship program with a sequence of online courses in which students learn a mix of technical and general job skills.

A critical facet of this work has been helping the companies we work with understand that people from a variety of backgrounds with a range of skill sets require different types of supports in order to be successful. We wanted to use our pre-apprenticeship Techdegree program as an opportunity to show companies what those supports can look like.

We partnered with Comcast to provide our Techdegree candidates with laptops and internet connections. And we made the course self-paced and part time, so students with jobs could log on as their schedules permitted.

We also pair candidates with mentors who provide guidance and support virtually.

People who successfully complete our Techdegree course of study move on to three-month paid apprenticeships with companies in their areas.

To ensure that our apprentices get the support they need, we often engage with our business partners for three months after placement. We help them choose and train mentors, and we offer them a virtual equity and diversity training session. We also engage with their human resources departments to help them examine policies that would enable them to foster more inclusive and equitable work environments.

We feel like we’re on to something. Our first cohort of Techdegree students, who completed the program in 2018, had an 80 percent placement rate. Two new cohorts have recently begun their apprenticeships, and we are expanding the program into more roles. We initially focused on training for software developers and user experience designers, and now we’re looking to include training for people interested in data analysis, marketing, and sales.

Apprenticeships offer tech companies an opportunity to tap talent outside of their traditional labor pools, creating stronger and more diverse businesses. We hope more will join us.

See more about Treehouse’s apprenticeship program in Harvard Business Review.

This work has been funded through the generous support of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Ryan Carson, CEO of Treehouse, discusses FutureTech—an apprenticeship program designed to get underrepresented youth careers in tech.