The receipt of a freshly minted college degree in a STEM field used to be the basic “price of entry” to pursue tech jobs in fields from digital engineering to cloud. However, times are changing and there are new non-linear career paths available to degreed students out of high school, not college. Technology apprenticeships are becoming recognized as alternative paths to launching a tech career: and some companies like HCL Technologies are also offering opportunities for apprentices to gain a debt-free college education.
Robert Reiss with HCL Technologies Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, C Vijayakumar and … [+]
From burger joints to delivery services to childcare to retail to technology, jobs everywhere are growing faster than the talent pool can make up. As an economic engine, the technology industry generated almost two million jobs between 2010 and 2018. Today, the tech industry accounts for nearly 12% of the U.S. GDP and may create 8 million jobs by 2023.
Yet millions of those jobs go unfilled, more than 500,000 nationwide according to Code.org. Universities are unprepared to fill the labor gap, and the focus on degrees misses a big point: Not all computing jobs require them. Many tech roles demand specialized technical and soft skills, not four-year degrees. They fall into the category of “new collar” jobs.
In November, multibillion global HCL Technologies announced 500 new jobs coming to Connecticut in IoT, augmented reality, aerospace engineering, infrastructure, digital workplace, IT applications and operations. Given the hiring hotbed, where will all those “new collar” candidates come from? Some may flow through a technology apprenticeship developed by HCL.
The unique HCL program mirrors best practices in technology apprenticeships, including the benefit of debt-free education. “The apprenticeship provides full pay and benefits, with careers in software development and testing, digital and cloud services, infrastructure delivery and engineering,” explained HCL Technologies Global CMO, Jill Kouri, at the recent opening of their newest global delivery center in Hartford, Connecticut.
Apprenticeships like the HCL Technologies workforce development program actively attract and retain at the beginning of the “career funnel.” This early proactive approach ties in with best practices. Think of technology apprenticeships as similar to medical residencies. The paid work-based learning and structured curricula leads to a skilled professional in a specific career. “For the aspiring technology worker, this path makes complete sense,” explained Jill Kouri. “You get a foothold at a technology organization that’s already invested in a structure in place to get you to the next step, unlike a college degree, which largely leaves graduates on their own to find their careers.”
Who knows how much CEOs would be rethinking talent recruitment and development strategies if COVID had never happened. Lack of skills side-track business innovation under any conditions and keep CEOs up at night. The Brookings Institute noted that apprenticeships “enable employers to play a more active role in shaping the talent they need while also building a culture of ongoing learning and innovation.”
Apprenticeship programs drive workforce development and create economic opportunities in communities where participants work and live. Tech apprentices salaries run much higher than local averages for non-degree careers. Once hired, pay is usually further bumped, as is the case with HCL Technologies apprenticeships. They also deepen corporate relationships with the community. Therefore, the local impact of a technology apprenticeship must be part of the board’s thinking.
On the other hand, making a local commitment puts responsibility on the organization to follow through with location-specific teams to coordinate programs. There’s no such thing as a casual approach to workforce strategy. Doing it right may involve local sponsors, recruiters, training and program management.
Apprenticeships may have leaped from the blue collar trades to white collar work with ease, but those programs still take months to develop, launch and maintain. Clearly the benefits justify the means, though, as more IT giants and big tech adopt the practice. The HCL Technologies apprenticeship program for high school graduates clearly seems to be the lead program in the sector.
Beyond the pressure of a skilled labor shortage, technology apprenticeships address another priority for CEOs – growing diversity and inclusion. To stay competitive, CEOs realize their organizations must broaden their search for high-potential candidates.When employers depend on degrees as proxies for skills, it may lead to racial and economic exclusion.
An increasing number of young people simply don’t have the financial means to go to college, with the divide growing even more during COVID. Young adults couldn’t pursue career paths of almost any kind, because their families needed them during the pandemic. This cohort faces multiple challenges not of their own making, but an apprenticeship program offers equitable access. It allows more students to break away from whatever holds them back. A recent survey of high school students found that the likelihood of attending a four-year school sank nearly 20% in the last eight months — down to 53%, from 71%, according to ECMC Group, a non-profit aimed at helping student borrowers. High schoolers are putting more emphasis on career training and post-college employment, the report found.
“With degrees as ‘gatekeepers,’ businesses overlook talent that lacks the skills to access high-quality, high-paying jobs. It’s a vicious cycle, and apprenticeships break the pattern,” noted Kouri. Inclusive leaders recognize that race, ethnicity, gender or diploma has no monopoly on talent. As non-traditional talent sources, apprenticeships open doors to people who have been underrepresented in the jobs engine, and to untapped growth for businesses that bring them on board.