To keep talent coming, tech must fill its own pipeline

Tech-mate: The best way for tech companies to ensure future victories in talent acquisition is to embrace Registered Apprenticeship programs, according to Phil Rugile.
By PHIL RUGILE //

Workforce development in tech? Not as easy as it sounds.

My workforce muse, Rosalie Drago, has in this very column touched on the concept that apprenticeships belong in every industry – but in fact, they’re still viewed mainly as benefits only in trade occupations.

You often hear of someone “apprenticing as a plumber.” But when talking about a software developer getting on-the-job training as a “junior” developer, the term “apprentice” would never be used, though that’s exactly what that person goes through.

Semantics? I think not. A Registered Apprenticeship program has real hard-dollar value to employers and employees in almost every industry. And if technology sectors are going to take advantage of this opportunity to create sustainable talent pipelines, they’re going to have to shed their view of such programs as something only offered to kids who don’t go to college.

The U.S. Department of Labor defines a Registered Apprenticeship program as “an innovative work-based learning and postsecondary earn-and-learn model that meets national standards.” There are five official components: employers pay the participants, programs meet established state requirements, programs provide both on-the-job and classroom or technical instruction, employers designate employees to oversee the training and act as mentors and training results in an industry-recognized credential.

National unemployment is at record lows. Technology-driven industries are finding it increasingly difficult to find talent. Many have taken the plunge and started working with colleges to take on summer interns – and if everything works out, the student often gets offered a full-time job upon graduation.

Although that’s a more common internship approach, businesses that formalize the process by meeting the government requirements – including tech businesses – create more of an apprenticeship-type opportunity.

Phil Rugile: If you’re gonna do it, do it right.

Creating structured training programs to fill the jobs funnel is the logical next step. IBM recognized this back in 2011, when it partnered with the New York City Department of Education to create a very successful program called P-TECH, or Pathways In Technology Early College High School. The six-year, STEM-focused education model provides students with college credits by their senior year of high school; they also work on the job with participating employers and often land full-time gigs after college graduation – all while providing value to the employers along the way.

There are more than 30 P-TECH programs in New York State, including programs on Long Island. These workforce initiatives fit hand-in-glove with innovation centers and incubators.

I recently had a conversation with the director of an upstate incubator called StartFast, a venture fund that puts startups through intensive programs designed to create battle-hardened, investment-ready entrepreneurs.

Turns out, among the backers of this high tech-focused center were some who’ve worked extensively in manufacturing-related industries requiring high-tech skills – now providing mentoring, funding and other services to ensure the success of their ecosystem.

Technology courses through everything. We must stop thinking of the industry as a silo – especially when it comes to recruitment – and realize there are programs and methods out there specifically designed to train talent when the readily available talent pool dries up.

Companies that create formal apprenticeships, mentoring programs and related support services will more successfully grow their talent pipelines than those that continually engage overly aggressive headhunting on an endless search for experienced talent that may not even exist, or may be beyond budgetary constraints.

It’s time for tech companies to start growing their own talent.

Phil Rugile is the director of LaunchPad Huntington and a consultant on corporate innovation and workforce-development programs. Reach him at phil@launchpadhuntington.com.