Podcast: Apprenticeships and Employing People With Disabilities
Future of Work Podcast, Episode 12
This podcast is developed in partnership with Workology.com as part of PEAT's Future of Work series, which works to start conversations around how emerging workplace technology trends are impacting people with disabilities.
Intro : [00:00:00] Welcome to the Workology podcast, a podcast for that disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, founder of Workology.com, as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, HR and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here's Jessica with this episode of Workology.
Jessica : [00:00:26] Welcome to a new series on the Workology podcast that we're kicking off that focuses on the future of work. This series is in collaboration with the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology, or PEAT. You can learn more about PEAT at PEATworks.org.
Jessica : [00:00:43] I don't think I need to remind you that we're at an inflection point when it comes to employment and the available talent we have in the market. There are now more jobs that unemployed looking for work. Especially in the technology sector, there are not enough skilled workers to fill these highly technical roles and there won't be for many years, and I mean years, unless employers look at creative ways to scale up our existing workforce with apprenticeships. Welcome to an ongoing series on the Workology podcast that we're continuing that focuses on the future of work. This series is in collaboration with the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology, or PEAT. Today I'm joined by Jennifer Carlson. She's the executive director of the Washington Technology Industry Association and Apprenti. Jennifer, welcome to the Workology podcast. Can you tell us a little more about your background?
Jennifer : [00:01:39] Yeah! Thanks. I come from tech but on the business side. I worked for AIG and Progressive, and actually have some sports background as well working for the NBA, but on the business development side managing large company relationships. On the tech aspect, I worked at AIG where I was the champion for -- and I will date myself -- managing the migration of our DOS-based software to a Web rating system for personal lines insurance. So jumping in the way back machine, I've seen tech talent from all different angles and I've seen the loss that takes place in that space trying to identify talent and vendors who can serve us as an industry and I've just seen over the last 10 or 15 years how painful that's gotten for everybody. So that's kind of led us to where we are, but I come from industry so I bring a really healthy business perspective to how to develop a program.
Jessica : [00:02:36] I love that. And I think that your background and your experience is really going to help drive the conversation around apprenticeships and something that H.R. leaders, recruiting leaders, hiring managers, anybody in business can really relate to. So that's great. So, talk to us a little bit about apprenticeships and maybe how they offer a solution to a challenge of driving or building a more diverse workforce and finding skilled employees to fit those roles that seem to be unfilled forever. And particularly in the areas of software web developers and project managers. So how do they offer a solution?
Jennifer : [00:03:13] Sure. I mean apprenticeship is as old as time. I mean it's been around forever and if you look at today's society globally, apprenticeship in tech is not new. It's been done in Europe, Japan, Australia, China for the last 40 years since really modern era tech has become what it is. But we do it in every other industry we just don't always call it apprenticeship. Its residency in healthcare. You take your CPA but you have to do years of exam work to do that in finance. So, we have it in other areas. You're clerking in law, for example. So, for tech, this is really just about taking a tried-and-true principle but having to tweak it and adapt it so that it works for our industry. The traditional trades, which is what we think of in the United States, for apprenticeship those are four- and five-year programs which is a dog's age and a half for technology. We’ll change platforms at least once in that time frame. So, you know, we're really at a point where, with 2.8 million job openings and not enough people domestically to fill those jobs, and only 60,000 computer science graduates a year conferred at the four-year level in this country, something has to give. The pain point is now at a huge level. And really, it's how do we attract people from other walks of life. Because it's a twofold issue. We don't have enough talent and we have a challenge on hiring diversity. If you look at our society and get outside of tech for a moment, the folks that we’re desperately trying to bring in from a diverse perspective – women, people of color, veterans -- are more likely to choose alternative education whether that's an online degree, going to a secondary or post-secondary program, or I'm sorry, secondary or tertiary college, so that they can do evening and weekend classes. They're choosing alternate paths because they're not looking at the value of education from an institutional level. And we, as an industry, now going back to tech, don't typically recruit from there. So of those 60,000 comp-sci degrees that are conferred, we're probably actively only recruiting half of them. And we have a lot of great talent that didn't come through STEM that is completely competent. And if we stratify our hiring needs and look really in-depth at what we have to hire and where the talent needs to be, there are a lot of jobs in tech that really do not require a four-year college degree. And if we can wrap our heads around that and focus on competency and retrain people, opening the aperture from where we currently recruit just one or two notches, creates a floodgate of opportunity to hire people who are highly capable that are probably underemployed or underutilized in their industries and also open up the door to a lot more diversity at the same time.
Jessica : [00:06:11] Well let's talk a little bit more about Apprenti and how you guys are helping in offering an apprenticeship solution to the technology space.
Jennifer : [00:06:21] Apprenti is focused on, and it was built by industry. So, big companies: Microsoft, Amazon, Accenture, Zillow, Tableau, all in the backyard of Washington State, sat at the table together, because we can convene them agnostically to sit and work together collaboratively on something, and they designed for us a program they felt that they could adopt -- number one -- and then they sat back and tried to identify, by looking across the spectrum of positions they had to hire for, and determined what they thought was apprenticable. In what roles could they forego pedigree in favor of competency, whether the person has a college degree in some other field, or no college degree but can demonstrate their ability and aptitude to do the work. Do we think we can retrain them for these mid-level tech positions? So we drafted standardized taxonomies around each of those jobs that were vetted across healthcare, financial services, and high tech. Because 80 percent of the job of a software developer, as you mentioned earlier, looks the same in all three industries. The platform may be different, but what you do functionally looks the same and the other 20 percent then becomes industry- or company-centric. But if we can get to an 80 percent fidelity and we all agree to that, it means that when an apprentice finishes being an apprentice and graduates, if they're retained by their company, great, but if they're not retained there's now a standard out there that makes them portable across industry sectors as well as state lines. And so this is building a holistic system for the United States in tech that makes this consumable across all 50 states without us having to get into identifying the value of one apprenticeship over another based on the company who offered it.
Jessica : [00:08:10] So Apprenti was built by companies, for companies. Not some vendors or programmers or consultants who said hey we need this. This is coming directly from the best and brightest companies saying here's what we need, here's how we need it, here's the structure to what we need to be able to accomplish this.
Jennifer : [00:08:30] That's correct. And we had two sets of folks at the table. Initially, we had global heads of H.R. for those companies sitting at the table to help really get to the root fundamentals of what positions could be “apprenticeable.” Meaning they could be taught through some accelerated learning to an industry certification that we already consume, we feel like we could pair them internally with somebody who can mentor them on the job. The core fundamentals of how apprenticeship works were included, but they orchestrated how it was going to be implemented, and then we vetted that with frontline staff to make sure this job could really, truly be apprenticed. And is the taxonomy right? And is the training aligned to their ability to come into the job and be proficient within a year? Consistently – and I do this this in the air so that nobody can ever see it -- but on an XY access if X is productivity and Y is one year of time (which is a term of apprenticeship for us), it's about between month 7 and month 8 that those two lines intersect and that a person has had enough mentorship that their productivity is now on the up slope and the time for mentorship that somebody needs to dedicate and invest in them on the job starts to decline, and they become less day-to-day involved in making sure that person is capable. And companies, in our cases, even though it's a year for apprenticeship, are starting to convert people between month 9 and month 10 to keep them on job and just say we want to make sure they're staying with us and that they're not out looking for another job, this is great.
Jessica : [00:10:05] Awesome. So let's let's back up a little bit here and talk about the Apprenti program: how it works, how it's funded? What's the cost to an employer if they’re listening to us right now and they think this is amazing and I have roles that I want to put through an apprenticeship program through you guys. So walk us through those things.
Jennifer : [00:10:26] Sure. There’s a process to it. If they contacted us, the first thing we're going to do is sit down and vet the taxonomies that have already been drafted to make sure that they really, truly still stick and will work for that company at that 80 percent level. Then we're going to sit down with the hiring department to understand what kind of training somebody would need to have to come in and be proficient. What are the competencies that they'll need to have? And then, what’s your corporate culture? What kind of person are you looking for? If you look beyond the norm and are willing to go outside of the comfort zone in hiring somebody, what does this person need to bring to the table culturally to fit into the organization? And then it's our job to go out and source the diverse talent. 94 percent of the apprentices we place fall into women, people of color, veterans or persons with disabilities. So, we've been really good at sourcing strong candidates. Our job is to build a candidate pool to send to the company for interviews that they have appetite for. And then we facilitate getting them trained during a three-to-six month term before they start their one year of time on the job with the company. For that, it’s a $2,500 dollar flat fee to Apprenti for the apprentice once they get to their one year of apprenticeship. And that's the fee to us because we have private funds coming from the US federal government and a number of other companies that fund us. Then, in most cases jurisdictionally, we look at how to pay for the training. There are subsidies available in many locations to cover at least portions of the training. So, you could be paying as a company up to $7,500 for classroom time on top of that. But they're getting industry recognized certifications -- so MCSA from Microsoft, CCNA from Cisco, Salesforce certs and software development classes but tuned to the way the company needs them. And then they come to a job. So I know that's a lot of information. It’s a multi-step process, but it moves pretty quickly.
Jessica : [00:12:34] Yeah and I'm glad that you're laying all this out because it has a lot of moving parts, but it sounds like you do a lot of additional vetting to make sure that things are going to work, the culture is there, you have an understanding of who the candidate is -- or the ideal candidate -- to put through the apprenticeship program and then a way that you guys go. Now, one thing that I have heard from a number of people from the SHRM talk that I did at SHRM Talent on the subject of apprenticeships from folks who went through the federal programs is that it's really complex and easy to make mistakes. But it sounds like you guys have that process really dialed-in that you can really make it seamless and hopefully as easy as possible.
Jennifer : [00:13:22] There are a number of advantages to doing apprenticeship, in addition to creating an additional workforce, because let's face it, even if we consumed 100 percent of STEM coming out of college, it still leaves us with a two and a half million person deficit to the jobs that are posted in the country today. So, we have to find a ride-along pipeline if you will. Something to stand up next to it. I think if you're looking at the U.S. in particular, you know we've done apprenticeships in this country not just in the trades but we effectively do it in accounting before you're able to complete your CPA. We do it in medicine, it's just called residency. It's clerking in law. There are multiple forms of apprenticeship in a fairly formal sense beyond the trades. It's just the tech sector, in particular, hasn't looked at this as a potential talent development tool. And now that we look at it through the lens of apprenticeship, it's kind of a foreign concept and so helping tech companies, or even companies who just have tech needs, get their heads around how to implement a traditional apprenticeship becomes part of the discussion that it’s an educational lift with companies. If you look at Europe, Asia, Australia, it's been done in our sector for 40 to 50 years. So it already exists out there, it’s just: how does it need to work societally and infrastructure-wise in the United States because it hasn't been here for that long. And so that's where we started this conversation with the hiring companies. How do we build an infrastructure that makes sense for us, because the building trades have been the prevalent source of traditional apprenticeship or registered apprenticeship in this country. And a five-year lead time doesn't work for us. Or the idea of going to job for a year and doing classroom time concurrent with job shadowing doesn't work for us. So we had to take the core principles of apprenticeship and then figure out how do we wrap that into a system that works for us starting at a year, not five years. Front-loading training instead of doing it concurrently, but still managing to the the guidelines of law in this country around apprenticeships. So when you talk of it in terms of other industries already doing it under different names, you see some quick dawning of lights over people's heads going, oh yeah, that makes total sense, now I get it.
Jessica : [00:15:59] Let's take a reset. This is Jessica Miller-Merrill and you're listening to the Workology podcast in partnership with PEAT. Today we’re talking with Jennifer Carlson.
Announcer : [00:16:05] The Workology podcast future of work series is supported by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology. PEAT’s initiative is to foster collaboration and action around accessible technology in the workplace. PEAT is funded by the US Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy, ODEP. Learn more about PEAT at PEATworks dot org that's P-E-A-T-w-o-r-k-s dot org.
Jessica : [00:16:37] What are some frequently asked questions from some of the employers or businesses that you're talking to around apprenticeships or your program?
Jennifer : [00:16:46] We get a wide range of questions. Everything from how do we source candidates? To how do we operationalize it internally inside the company? Our approach or recommendation to a company when starting this project or looking at this channel is to test it internally to make sure that you have the infrastructure internally aligned to develop talent, and that usually -- based on some of the hiring companies we've worked with -- is a discussion about you know being volunteered versus voluntold. How do you reward internally for people who choose to take on an apprentice? Because it is a time commitment for the person who's going to mentor somebody internally. And we've seen everything from putting people into a leadership track versus taking a bonus that companies typically often offer employees to attract friends and family to come take jobs at the company. And when they get hired by the company that employee gets a bonus, making that a retention bonus so that if we get you over the finish line of apprenticeship at the end of that year and your apprentice stays with the company and they've been successful enough on the job that we want to retain them, that the employees who did the mentorship gets a bonus. How do we get around to hiring requirements where the job description has always had a college degree required everybody in that role has one and now we could be opening the door to people potentially who don't have a college degree? We don't know that until they are already becoming an apprentice -- does that open us up to litigation? How do we get around that? And there are workarounds for that and we work with Accenture on the consulting arm to help companies get through those processes. There are any number of infrastructure things the company still needs to figure out for itself internally and that's why we say start small and let's make sure that you can operationalize it and make it successful with that core group before we start to scale. And that's really worked well with companies. I mean, we'd rather build that correctly from the front-end than walk in the door and say let's give you hundreds right now. Because you're not going to be able to sustain that right out of the chute.
Jessica : [00:19:02] I really love what you guys are doing and I think it's timely that we're having this conversation because the economy is really showing no signs of slowing. With the unemployment figures, we have more jobs now than people looking for work that are unemployed. And so we are effectively at zero unemployment, so organizations are going to have to get creative and think outside the box if you will, and I think Apprenti is a great option for employers and businesses to really consider.
Jennifer : [00:19:33] Well and I think that the fact that we were sort of first at the table in this space and working with some very large companies has also given us some great key learnings. And part of our role is to facilitate that and share best practices from company to company so that you don't have to keep reinventing that wheel and go through the same pain points.
Jessica: [00:19:50] Agreed. Well, where can people go to learn more about you and the Apprenti program?
Jennifer : [00:19:55] Well, two recommendations are: visit Apprenticareers dot org. We are a 501c3 by design so that there are some economic benefits to the company for engaging this way and we can help pass those through to the companies. So Apprenticareers.org, or they can email me and set up time to meet and go through a formal presentation and do some Q&A. And that's firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jessica: [00:20:19] Thank you so much, Jennifer, for taking the time to talk with us today. I really appreciate it.
Jennifer: [00:20:22] Thank you!
Jessica: [00:20:24] I am absolutely in love with the Apprenti program and how they are going about helping employers in the technology sectors. This is a long-term strategy. However, it is one that we absolutely need. We need to consider this and embrace programs like Jennifer's. Upskilling and informal training programs are great ways to fill your talent funnel. You are changing someone's life. The ripples will be felt far beyond your P&L as part of the social enterprise movement, which I'm seeing more and more. The job market continues to tighten for the foreseeable future, which is why we need to get strategic and really look at long-term staffing models. Thank you for joining the Workology podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader who's tired of the status quo. I know you are. I am too. This is Jessica Miller-Merrel. Until next time, you can visit Workology.com to listen to all our previous podcast episodes. Have a great day.
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