The nonprofit Silicon Slopes is teaming up with a labor-training program to create apprenticeships to fill a hole in Utah’s tech-industry talent pool.
The Utah tech organization is partnering with Apprenti, which aims to create a training program for employees with computer skills and to pair those workers with companies in need of talent.
Jennifer Carlson, executive director of the Seattle, Wash.-based Apprenti, pitched it to a room full of tech executives Wednesday at Silicon Slopes’ offices in Lehi. Apprenti is a program of the nonprofit Washington Technology Industry Association Workforce Institute.
Carlson led with statistics, noting there were 2.9 million tech jobs unfilled in 2018 nationwide, and that the country’s four-year colleges — the source most companies draw upon for new employees — are producing around 65,000 bachelor’s degree holders in communications, computer and information services.
The insistence on hiring talent from four-year colleges has “tightened our workforce to a level we can’t even sustain,” Carlson said. “We are going to have to create another pathway for tech talent.”
The apprenticeship system Apprenti sets up is an alternative. Anyone 18 years old or older can sign up, Carlson said, take a qualifying test and pass a series of interviews, and be placed with a company for on-the-job training for no less than a year. At the end of that year, or sometimes as soon as six months, an employer can hire that apprentice as a full-time employee.
Ben Luks-Morgan, the program director for Silicon Slopes Apprenti, said the goal is to place 40 employees with Utah companies in the first year, 100 in the second year, and 200 a year after then.
The Utah program is a public-private partnership. Utah’s Department of Workforce Services is providing a $245,000 grant to get the apprenticeship program off the ground under the Talent Ready Utah initiative, Luks-Morgan said. Companies that sign up to hire apprentices will fund the Apprenti program as it grows, he added.
In Apprenti’s 2 1/2 years of existence, Carlson said, it has placed about 500 employees with companies in 10 states. Though the minimum age is 18, the median age of apprentices is 33 — often college graduates pursuing second careers, she said.
Women, underrepresented minorities and veterans are also highly sought, she said.
The application process is rigorous, Carlson said: Those 500 employees Apprenti has helped place came from about 14,000 applications.
Experience in tech isn’t a necessity, Carlson said. She cited one applicant, a former manager at Burger King.
“You take away the job he had, and you look at the skills he had: He’s hired, he’s fired, he’s done scheduling, he’s done payroll, he’s done supply-chain logistics. … He’s had to address crisis moments,” Carlson said. Such abilities, she added, “while not technical in nature, still make them highly capable from a soft-skills perspective, and are portable skill sets that we can use.”
Carlson said Apprenti has worked with small firms all the way up to giant companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Kroger. The program takes a level of commitment from the employer, and “this is not a perfect fit for all companies,” Carlson said.
Silicon Slopes Apprenti is taking applications for prospective apprentices at apprenticareers.org/locations/utah, Luks-Morgan said. He hopes to start technical training in August, and placing people with companies by November.