As the need for employees with specialized digital skills continues to increase exponentially, companies are turning to an age-old, hands-on training method. Once the domain of blue collar trades, apprenticeships are becoming a popular teaching tool.
Companies like IBM and Bosch are using apprenticeship programs, also called co-ops, to train workers in digital skills like software engineering and cybersecurity. Such programs are helping companies meet their needs for skilled talent in what is often a tight labor market.
The United State Department of Labor has also acknowledged the benefits of apprenticeship programs for all trades.
"There was a time when traditional education came in the form of a professor and a thickly-bound textbook," says Jasmine Star, founder of Social Curator, which manages social content for companies and uses apprentices. "Technology advances at such a rapid pace that books are outdated quickly. Apprenticeships, on the other hand, offer real-time education."
Gabrielle Bosché, president of The Millennial Solution, agrees.
"Apprenticeships that support or even replace traditional education are a brilliant option," Bosché says, "especially in industries driven by constantly changing technology."
Benefits of Apprenticeships
An apprentice is someone who learns on the job and is trained while getting paid. There are a wide variety of benefits of apprenticeships for employers—many of which can help a business become more competitive and successful.
"Apprenticeships empower business owners to train their future workforce on the skills they need today," says Bosché. "This strategy puts the business owner in the training driver seat, rather than relying on an outside institution."
To ensure that apprenticeships progress as scheduled, it's a good idea to review the entire program monthly to ensure that goals and expectations are on track.
—Cheryl Cran, founder, NextMapping.
While apprenticeships offer apprentices a variety of benefits, employers gain even more from such arrangements, believes Jeb Ory, CEO of Phone2Action, a digital advocacy platform that connects citizens to lawmakers.
Ory's company instituted their own apprenticeship program, Civic Tech Fellowship Program, in 2015, and have hosted more than 60 apprentices.
Are Apprenticeships Worth the Investment?
"We've invested more than $1 million in the program, and it's been well worth it," says Ory. "For the sponsoring company, apprentices bring energy, drive and ambition. They're generally digital natives who help push the company ahead."
Venkat Krishnamurthy, president and co-founder of the online small business network Alignable, agrees.
"Every fresh batch of co-ops [apprentices] brings a surge of energy to our organization," he says of their apprenticeship program offered with Northeastern University. "We may be teaching them, but they also teach us."
Apprenticeships also offer an effective way to "build stronger talent pipelines," notes Lisa Brown, vice president of talent at Vidyard, a video marketing platform that has an apprenticeship program partnership with University of Waterloo.
"Apprenticeships allow business owners to decrease the length of the hiring cycle by developing a pool of strong talent for future jobs," adds career expert, author and speaker Francine Parham. "This lowers recruitment costs and reduces the time it takes to hire highly skilled individuals."
6 Steps to Effective Apprenticeships
If you want to enjoy the perks of apprenticeships at your company, keep the following tips in mind.
1. Provide structure and guidance.
"If the goal is to produce efficient, hardworking, committed employees," Rizzo says, "then the apprenticeship needs to have those same qualities. Provide apprentices with a finite timeline containing several measurable targets along the way."
2. Offer a solid training opportunity.
"Ensure that the apprenticeship is a real learning and training opportunity for the apprentice on the skills your company needs now and in the future," says Parham.
"Make sure you have a well-thought-out plan for the apprenticeship program and a real job assignment that will offer a true opportunity for the apprentice to learn, practice and add value to your company," she adds.
3. Assign a staff member to the apprentice.
"Ensure that you or someone on your staff has the time to truly engage and work with and train the apprentice," says Parham.
At Krishnamurthy's company, apprentices each get a dedicated senior full-time employee to serve as their mentor for the duration of the apprenticeship.
4. Review progress regularly.
"To ensure that apprenticeships progress as scheduled, it's a good idea to review the entire program monthly to ensure that goals and expectations are on track," says Cheryl Cran, a future of work expert and founder of the consulting company NextMapping.
"Also provide ongoing support and markers of increasing effectiveness, so the apprentice can see progress," Cran adds.
5. Treat them as you would your employees.
In order to see an impact by apprentices, Krishnamurthy has had success treating them like all other employees.
"Our co-ops have the same voice and participate at the same level in all company activities," he says. "We've even given them stock options. We treat them with the same high degree of respect as our full-time, permanent employees. That has paid off for everyone involved."
6. Acknowledge apprentice contributions.
Ory's company ensures that the work of all apprenticeships is visible and celebrated.
"We do weekly demos of what they're accomplishing, as well as end-of-term presentations," he says. "Doing this helps consolidate learning and educate the company about what apprentices have accomplished."
Read more articles on HR.
Photo: Getty Images