Apprentices Could be Answer to CIOs' Hiring Needs

Mentor Teaching ApprenticeWith hundreds of thousands of openings in the information technology field, one hiring expert is proposing that apprenticeships might be the way to go to solve that problem.
Writing at the CompTIA Blog, Paul Cronin says, “Desperate times call for desperate measures. For those of us in IT, creative times call for creative measures, particularly when it comes to recruiting new talent.” Cronin writes there were 600,000 job openings in IT in the first quarter of 2014.
Cronin is senior vice president with Atrion Networking Corporation, an IT services provider that designs, deploys and manages business-driven information technology solutions. He says, “At Atrion Networking, we’ve had great success in identifying and grooming new IT pros through a year-long apprenticeship program. The program includes technical training, customer service and leadership development.”
Atrion began the program four years ago because it faced the problem of too many generals and not enough privates. ” At the time, we had a good number of high-level engineers on staff, but you can’t have just high-level engineers. We needed to build out bench strength.”
The first year the program had six apprentices, followed by 12 the next two years, and 20 this year. According to the post, apprentices come from area schools, organizations like the Rhode Island Tech Collective and Year Up, the U.S. armed forces and even referrals from friends and family. Atrion is located in Warwick, R.I.
Cronin explained their duties this way: ” They spend the first three months doing classroom and lab work and the next three months in the field under close mentoring and supervision. They continue to meet once a week with the apprenticeship program manager to assure consistent alignment with the program’s requirements. We give our apprentices the next six months to really define a specialty — what they’re going to do to take the next step into their career. Once an apprentice selects a specialty, a whole new level of knowledge begins to grow. Apprentices advance much sooner than if they hadn’t picked a specialty.
“The last piece of the program is a demonstration of excellence, a team exercise where we see our apprentices in the field working together with peers, exposing the way they think and the way they interact. This is what we call the secret sauce; the thing that separates us from other programs. At the end of 12 months there’s a graduation ceremony and our apprentices earn a credential.”
Cronin would like to see the government more involved in supporting apprenticeship programs like the one his company offers. “We believe the ability to identify and grow talent is what differentiates us and we’ve invested heavily to do that. But we are limited in how much we can invest: It requires a significant investment in putting those apprentices through this program. If the government at all levels and other types of programs are there to support us, encourage us and help compensate us, we could easily double our number of apprentices.”
Kathryn Tyler, writing at the Society for Human Resources Management, says, “Apprenticeship, a model of instruction that has been in use for hundreds of years, could regain popularity in the United States as high-tech manufacturing operations grow and the cost of a four-year college degree skyrockets.”
She further observes, “U.S. high schools have replaced nearly all practical instruction—wood shop, auto shop, machine shop, sewing, typing, drafting and culinary classes—with college-prep courses, even though more than one-third of high school students do not attend college or university, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.”
But, as she points out, companies do take a significant gamble when it comes to apprentices. “The costs of apprenticeship to the employer can be significant—typically $170,000 to $250,000 per apprentice for four years of classroom training, medical benefits and a salary on the job while apprentices learn. Employers are not required to pay apprentices for the time they spend in classroom training, although most of them do. Employers may pay for textbooks. Despite the costs, sponsors generally do not require apprentices to work for them after graduating from the program. Employers trust that the apprentice will like the company and want to stay.”

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