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The Apprenticeship Report: January 2023

Updated: Jan 19


CALLING ALL EMPLOYERS!

In this new year, let us show you innovative ways of finding the tech talent you’ve been looking for


Lonnie Emard,

ACDS Apprenticeship Director


THE HOLIDAYS ARE over, and now you’re back to dealing with the same old same old of staffing issues: How do I find and attract the tech talent I need right now?


At ACDS, we’re here to help you solve your tech talent problems, and we’re not a

one-size-fits-all answer. That’s why the very first step in our work with any new employer is to understand your business and your unique challenges. What kinds of tech talent do you need? What—specifically—will they be doing for you?


With a detailed understanding of our client employers’ particular tech talent demands, ACDS has, over the past three years, helped more than 100 Arkansas employers—small, medium, and large—transition to an additional staffing strategy, a supplemental way of finding talent to fill the IT, cyber, and data analytics positions that they've been struggling to fill. With the blistering pace of technology development these days, those client employers have grasped the hard fact that ACDS was created to implement solutions for: When it comes to tech skills, there's too much demand and not enough supply. Continuing to go down a traditional path, looking only for traditional candidates with four-year degrees in computer science, just isn’t enough anymore.


“Well, we’re just going to compete better,” some other employers say. Competing better is fine—in this tech environment, all companies need to create challenging environments that inspire talented people to come to work for them. But in a way, competing better is sort of beside the point—if you don’t approach things differently, you can compete better all day long and still not have enough of the tech talent you need. The key is for us as a state and a nation to increase the capacity.


That’s the beauty of the apprenticeship model. For years, I’ve been using the analogy of The Chasm: On one side of this huge gap are the employers. Neatly printed job descriptions in hand, they look out over that abyss trying to find somebody to fill one of those pressing jobs—but there’s just nobody there, at least not that they can see. (“Not that they can see” is the operative phrase.)


Meanwhile, on the other side of that chasm, there are all kinds of people—career changers, people with degrees but not in computer science, non-college-goers, females, minorities, rural residents, veterans, you name it. Gazing across at the employers, all these potential candidates are saying to themselves, "I think I can do that IT job." Then they look at the qualifications listed on those job descriptions, the number one requirement being a four-year computer science degree. "Well, I guess I'm not qualified," many of them say.


Others are susceptible to magical thinking: Maybe they've started to venture out on their own to pay for some boot camp classes, or maybe they've completed some tech training through us; either way, they now think they can simply submit their resume and they'll be granted an interview.


It doesn't work that way. Because despite all the Indeeds and Career Builders and other job placement services out there, these candidates will still be rejected out of hand—because they don’t have the “required” experience.


And yet, consider this: More than 50 percent of the nine million IT professionals in the U.S. have succeeded in spite of not having that vaunted four-year computer science degree. How is this possible? It’s possible because more and more enlightened employers across the country are understanding that we’re in the midst of a paradigm shift in the way companies need to identify, assess, and hire the IT talent that today’s businesses desperately need in order to compete, survive, and grow.


***


A GREAT DEAL of ACDS’ work consists of educating employers in the concepts of this new paradigm. When we first present them with the apprenticeship model—in which they can look across that chasm and find any number of people who can, once trained, perform the IT jobs that they need to fill—some employers are still skeptical. "Hey,” they might say, “are you asking us to settle for something less?" We can answer that with example after example, showing that technical aptitude, a problem-solving mentality, and a strong company fit “wins” time and again.


Please understand: We’re in no way diminishing the quality of a four-year college degree—it’s just that there isn’t enough quantity to meet the demand. And even the CS graduate should, in most cases, be an apprentice for their first year of employment. At the end of the day, the important thing for any employer is finding somebody who can do the work.


Just before the end of the year, we submitted our ACDS apprenticeship data to Urban Institute, the Washington, DC, think tank that was staging a session on how impactful technology apprenticeships have been for small- and medium-size businesses across the nation. In the midst of that event, U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said, in his closing comments, "And as we as a country close in on 5,000 IT apprenticeships…." We were shocked by that—and delighted. After launching our first apprenticeship cohort in 2019, we now stand at 500 apprenticeships—10 percent of the entire country’s IT apprenticeship production. And 59 of our first 100 employers are in the small- and medium-size business categories.


That data is another answer to those employers still on the fence and wondering if we’re asking them to “settle for something less.” We’ve proven that tech skills can be taught and that people from all backgrounds and educational levels can be productive IT professionals. And, by the way, many of those small and medium companies that we’ve worked with aren’t “tech” companies—they’re banks, environmental companies, retail, manufacturers, what have you. What that means is that they were struggling because they may not have in-house recruiters to go out and find IT talent; ACDS eliminated that barrier for them through Talent Management. They may not have any training budgets, which meant—they thought—that they had to go steal the “perfect” candidate from somebody else; once again, we eliminated that problem for them. Finally, they don't want to deal with the Department of Labor, or they don't have an extra project manager or administrator to handle the paperwork of a Registered Apprenticeship—that’s another obstacle ACDS eliminated for them.


So, these small and medium companies—that on their own could never have done this—have now found not only the talent they need, but that talent gets trained explicitly for what they’ll be doing in that particular organization. For some of these companies, these apprenticeships may well have been the difference between thriving or surviving. During the Pandemic and beyond, a lot of small companies failed for the exact reason that now these companies didn't—because they found the talent to take their business online, or to create social media and a Web presence to maintain or increase their revenue streams.


The benefit of IT apprenticeships to a small- and medium-size company is different than the benefit to a large company, and here in Arkansas we’re also working with two of the largest—Walmart and J.B. Hunt. The value proposition in the end might look the same, and the features and the services that we offer are the same to a big company as they are to the small and medium companies. It’s just that the bigger companies struggle at times to change their paradigms—like a giant ocean liner, it takes time and a lot of effort to change directions. And it's not that big companies don't have the budgets to train talent—they’ve actually been training their people; they just haven’t formalized the fact that in doing so, many of them were essentially doing apprenticeships.


For the small- and medium-size company, though, there are a lot of services that ACDS offers at no cost, such as our five-person recruiting and talent-management team. We coach the job candidates. We equip them. We don’t do the training ourselves, but we team up with all our partners here in the state to take this potential talent and get them ready to put in front an employer, who says, "Okay, I know they don't yet check every box, but they're really close, and I'm willing to invest in them and hire them." And the employer pays that wage knowing that the apprenticeship model will fill in those final pieces of that very strategic skill-building and training that these new hires are going to need.


That's the message we want to get out to employers who either don’t know about apprentices at all, or know just a little bit but need more information. It’s a new year, one that could make a huge difference in the future of your business. Get in touch with ACDS (www.acds.co) and let us tell you all about it.

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