By Joel Kline
Professional apprenticeships are essential for bridging the skills gap and delivering practical experience. This is especially true for the dynamic and rapidly evolving IT and cybersecurity fields. One of the biggest complaints from companies looking to hire IT and cybersecurity talent is a lack of practical experience in the field after receiving a degree or certification. Professional apprenticeships provide a grounded opportunity to gain the hands-on experience and specialized knowledge necessary to thrive in the modern workforce.
Historically, apprenticeships have been associated with the trades, emphasizing skills like plumbing, steel working, and carpentry. However, the ever-evolving digital landscape has illuminated the need for IT, cybersecurity, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing apprenticeships. As technology emerges as a pivotal knowledge domain, there’s a significant demand for professionals, yet a notable shortage of experts in the field. Apprenticeships present a unique solution, allowing aspiring professionals to hone their skills under the mentorship of industry veterans.
We need a new apprenticeship model that is more responsive to the needs of organizations and individuals to meet the growing demand for skilled workers in IT, cybersecurity, and technology. This model should be more accessible, facilitate the specialized skills and experience to advance, and reward businesses that participate in developing their workforce.
The Federal government has recognized the need for apprenticeships. It has invested in the Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP) initiative with legislation and funding supporting state government participation. Consequently, states play a leading role in investing in apprenticeship programs and partnering with businesses and educational institutions to create a more robust and effective apprenticeship system.
However, investments at all levels need better focus. Economic regions throughout the United States need better coordination of funding and resources, streamlined compliance and paperwork, and improved rewards for participating organizations.
Many students graduate with theoretical knowledge from academic institutions but face challenges when navigating the practical dimensions of technology roles. Apprenticeships serve to bridge this knowledge-experience gap. For example, without hands-on experience in cloud computing, even individuals with solid IT experience may find themselves less mobile in the job market. This accentuates apprenticeships’ role in bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and applied expertise, enhancing the employability of individuals grounded in IT foundations.
From the apprentice’s perspective, this pathway promises numerous benefits: acquisition of in-demand skills, paid learning opportunities, valuable field-specific experience, and networking avenues with potential employers. Often, apprenticeships culminate in full-time job offers, presenting a clear trajectory for career advancement.
Businesses, in parallel, stand to gain significantly. Through apprenticeships, they can nurture a workforce tailored to their unique needs, potentially reducing turnover, diversifying their teams, and boosting overall morale and productivity.
However, hiring apprentices is not the slam-dunk some government agencies make it out to be. Although companies can be reimbursed for the training costs for registering an apprentice program, participation has drawbacks. The application process is time-consuming, and most states require an Apprenticeship Governance Board to approve or reject an application. While this process is admirable to retain rigor in programs, it can be streamlined. After successful registration, there are compliance steps, related training and instruction, and mentor assignments. My firm has witnessed smaller organizations struggle with requirements added to the Federal requirements by states adding their bureaucracy. After all these steps, organizations still need to pay employee wages, onboarding, taxes, and benefits. There needs to be a reward for participating in training tomorrow’s workforce, and many organizations are not seeing it reflected in the benefits of registered apprenticeship programs.
There is a discernible lag in our preparation to meet these new demands. Apprenticeships emerge as a crucial component in addressing this discrepancy. While the U.S. Department of Labor noted a rise in registered apprenticeships over recent years, it’s still not enough, especially considering the growth projections in sectors like cybersecurity.
The shift in the U.S. economy is evident, with the tech sector at the forefront of job creation. By 2023, the tech sector will introduce over eight million new roles. This surge will see an influx of “new collar jobs,” demanding a blend of technical and soft skills rather than conventional four-year degrees.
The call for expanded apprenticeships isn’t merely about numbers; it represents an adaptation to a shifting economic paradigm. There’s a clear need for proactive measures to equip individuals for the future job market and ensure skill deficits don’t hinder businesses.
Apprenticeship programs don’t just benefit—they revolutionize. In light of the pivotal role apprenticeships play in today’s tech-driven world, there’s a collective responsibility to amplify and innovate these programs to meet contemporary demands and anticipate future challenges.
Joel Kline, Ph.D., is Managing Partner of Allegro Learning Solutions in Harrisburg, PA. Allegro Learning Solutions is a leading provider of workforce solutions including technology and software to help businesses and workforce agencies close skill gaps. https://AllegroLearnings.com