As the rising cost of higher education in the U.S. makes it more difficult for people to gain the skills needed to break into the tech industry, one proposed solution has been apprenticeships. With training being conducted on the job, apprentices don’t have to invest as much money up front to learn the necessary skills. Now, the Consumer Technology Association is pushing more tech companies to create on-the-job training programs, with the launch of an ‘apprenticeship coalition,’ announced today at the Consumer Electronics Show.
At launch, the coalition has more than a dozen members, including Walmart, SoftBank Robotics, and Toyota. Members will commit to either scaling up their existing apprenticeship programs or creating new ones.
The effort is being spearheaded in conjunction with IBM, which launched its own apprenticeship program in the U.S. last year.
“We were really focused on bringing in all sorts of new pipelines of talent to help solve the skills gap that we saw,” Kelli Jordan, the leader of IBM’s ‘new collar initiatives’ told VentureBeat in a phone interview. “We just weren’t getting a lot of candidates for a lot of the different tech roles we were hiring [for] because we’re not graduating enough students from traditional universities.”
According to Jordan, just under 200 apprentices have or are currently going through the 12 month program. Of the dozen members that have graduated from the program, all have received job offers from IBM. Participants range from 18 to 59 years old.
Jordan declined to say how much IBM apprentices are earning on average, saying it varies by role and location, but said that in Raleigh, North Carolina, apprentice salaries start at around $50,000 per year.
There are apprenticeships available in nearly 20 different roles, ranging from software engineer to junior data analyst. There’s no bachelor’s degree requirement for any of the roles. Applicants interested in becoming software engineers do have to have some coding experience, though it doesn’t have to have come from previously working as a software engineer. Jordan says that applicants do have to interview with IBM before joining the program, where they’re predominantly judged for their ‘soft skills’ and their willingness to learn and work in a team.
CTA coalition members will get access to ‘competency maps’ IBM developed for a number of roles about what kind of skills the apprentice is expected to demonstrate by the end of their program, as well as orientation guides for apprentices. Member companies will also meet about 3 to 4 times over the coming year as they develop or scale up their apprenticeship programs, CTA’s vice president of U.S. jobs Jennifer Taylor told VentureBeat.
There’s currently no data available regarding how many tech companies have apprenticeship programs, but a greater number of big tech companies have launched their own apprenticeship programs within the past couple of years, including Amazon and Microsoft. The idea has also gotten backing from President Donald Trump’s administration, which a couple years ago doubled the amount of federal funding available for new apprenticeship training programs.
However, apprenticeships can be slow to scale. Jennifer Carlson, the director of another tech apprenticeship program called Apprenti, told VentureBeat last year that apprenticeships require employers to invest a lot of time in developing the proper training program, and ensuring that they have the proper managers on staff with the time to mentor apprenticeships continuously during their program.