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Apprenticeships are opening doors and diversifying the tech field

When done right, apprenticeship programs can diversify tech teams.
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· 4 min read

Apprenticeships have existed for centuries, but they may be seeing a surge in popularity.

As tech companies including LinkedIn, Twilio, Intuit, and IBM have struggled to recruit and retain talent, they’ve turned to this form of on-the-job training for potential hires who, as Tracy Stone, Intuit’s director of DE&I, told HR Brew, “may not have had the opportunity to have educational or work experience in technology,” but have the potential to develop into valued employees.

Recruiting with a wider lens. In the good old days, apprenticeships offered one of the only opportunities to learn a trade. Today, these programs are used by HR teams to expand and diversify recruiting pipelines, especially in historically homogeneous industries like tech.

“There’s so much talent in the industry that gets filtered out because they don’t have the right credentials, they don’t have the right degree,” Shalini Agarwal, senior director of engineering at LinkedIn and leader of the company’s REACH apprenticeship program, told HR Brew. “All of those people are overlooked in our recruiting pipelines…so we wanted to open up that opportunity funnel.”

Lili Gangas, chief technology community officer at the Kapor Center, a nonprofit focused on equity in tech, said she’s seen apprenticeships create pathways to jobs in software engineering, electric vehicles, and cybersecurity. She also said companies can use them to reduce the financial risks associated with hiring.

“Hiring is really expensive. Onboarding is expensive, and then when you have attrition, it’s even more expensive. So, I think that this could be a model that can actually be the most cost-efficient, if done right,” she said.

A new way in the door. LinkedIn started its apprenticeship around six years ago as a six-month program for three types of engineering roles. Today, it’s open-ended—so that apprentices can stay with the company until they meet the requirements for promotion—and offers pathways to 12 different roles, including applications engineer, AI engineer, data scientist, and technical program manager. The program is also open to both external and internal candidates.

Gangas said that casting a wide net when sourcing apprenticeship candidates is key to running an equitable program. In a webinar hosted by the Kapor Center, Kelley Hux, now a lead recruiter at Uiflow, spoke about finding apprenticeship candidates in a variety of places, including municipal workforce development groups, nonprofits, and bootcamps during her time as a talent acquisition partner at Twilio.

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Most interview processes for technical roles involve some sort of skills testing, such as whiteboarding. But Agarwal and Stone emphasized that mindset is more important than technical skill set and credentials in the apprenticeship application process.

“We look for people that are passionate, that have grit and perseverance, that are very interested to invest in themselves and show leadership qualities for themselves and others to create that environment to learn and grow,” Agarwal explained.

For example, Agarwal shared that one of LinkedIn’s apprentices was previously in recruiting, and is now using their experience to make tools for people leaders.

The business impact. At LinkedIn, Agarwal said that 81% of the apprenticeship program’s 91 former participants have been promoted into full-time jobs at the company.

Considering that the average salary of a LinkedIn software engineer is $120,000, according to Payscale, and a third-party recruiter would charge a company about 25% of a new hire’s salary as a placement fee, HR Brew estimates the value of this program at approximately $2.22 million so far—in addition to the value that comes with improving the diversity of teams.

While some financial resources are required to pay apprentices, the cost of running a program is not significant. The greater challenge, Agarwal and others said, is finding the time and getting buy-in, especially from those who would be mentoring the apprentices.

When LinkedIn started its program, its HR and engineering teams had to find managers who valued inclusion enough to do the extra work associated with taking on apprentices.

Six years later, this is no longer an issue.

“Now we have the reverse problem at LinkedIn,” Agarwal said. “Everybody wants an apprentice.”—AK

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