Apprentices needed in tech world
We all know the trades have a serious skills shortage: building firms are crying out for welders, electricians, carpenters and metal workers. They are happier to get them from an apprenticeship (learn on the job) than through a community college course, which takes longer.
The same is now true of tech workers. Since almost every company has a web presence and an IT department, tech occupations have boomed national in the last 10 years. There are now more than 500,000 unfilled tech positions nationwide. Last year, there were just 43,000 computer science graduates, which comes nowhere near filling them.
Enter Apprenti, the tech apprenticeship.
The idea for a tech apprenticeship came out of Amazon, which needed a boot-camp style crash course in computer languages followed by a locked-in apprenticeship program. Apprenti is an initiative of the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) Workforce Institute. Amazon is now backing its spread to Oregon, California, Ohio and Michigan — four states where it wants to retrain incumbent workers from data and distribution centers, and fast.
Apprenti candidates are awarded an apprenticeship at a tech firm or in the IT department of any firm in advance. They train for between 14 and 22 weeks at coding boot camps such as Code Fellows and Coding Dojo. Then they join the company and are paid at 60 percent of full entry level salary for the first year.
In Washington, large employers such as Microsoft, Amazon and Accenture have used the program. Now it is coming south with the intention of scaling nationally.
The Oregon Apprenti program has begun in the greater Eugene and Bend areas. It could be coming to Portland by the end of 2018. It is administered by the Technology Association of Oregon, which partners with the regional workforce investment boards. (The workforce boards have gone for Federal and state grants so the scheme can be run at no cost to the companies or apprentices.)
In Lane County, there is funding for 45 apprentices over three years. They already have 10 in their first year, but that may soon double. More than 80 people have taken the assessment and been ranked since December.
According to Matt Sayre, Director of Southern Willamette Valley TAO, "By 2024 it's estimated there will be 1 million or more tech jobs than applicants to fill them."
As an example, he mentions the Seneca Sawmill, which has an IT department of 28 people. "You could do software development at any company," he says. "Every company has someone doing something in tech. Even traditional companies have tech occupations."
In the Greater Eugene area, which now has over 400 tech companies, technology is the fastest growing and highest paying job sector.
"Over the next 10 years, tech companies will grow by 28 percent in employment growth, so these folks getting trained can go to work for those 400 companies."
Jobs for all who can do them
There are 200 tech job openings in Eugene right now, and 300 in Bend. In Greater Eugene, where Governor Kate Brown recently endorsed Apprenti, TAO is in talks with Lane Community College to provide instruction. Rather than degrees, apprentices will take very specific certificates, such as becoming a MCSE or Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer.
Four Eugene companies have signed on: IDX Broker, Palo Alto Software, Concentric Sky and Alpha IT.
Sayre's colleague at TAO, Events and Marketing Manager Southern Willamette Valley Allison Weatherly, told the Business Tribune:
"We're ahead of the other three states. We should see training start in Q1, in early spring."
Apprentices can change companies but from what she has heard in Washington, "the companies are dedicated to their future employees. There's no obligation, but we but think they will be loyal, they've taken them under their wing and there's a bond between apprentices and mentors."
When they have taken their courses and start their first day on the job, what kind of work will the apprentices be doing?
"The overall path of apprenticeship is on-the-job training. On Day 1 of employment, it's on the job learning," said Weatherly.
Teri Hockett, VP of TAO in Central Oregon, said "They will be junior-level developers, given test cases, they will have projects given to them."
Apprentices will also be tested as they go, and can study online materials as they go. (Software developers are used to Googling and getting on with it.)
Apprentices are paid 60 percent of the market value of the job's salary, or at least $45,000 per year, whichever is higher. "In Greater Eugene the average wage for a tech job, according to the State of Oregon, is $72,000 annually," says Sayre.
In Bend, according to Hockett, "We're right there, around $70,000."
Emotional intel inside
As for the soft skill, Sayre adds, "The more people work, the more people get
soft skills." He likes the idea of mandating every high school kid to have an internship, so that even if it's just showing up to
sweep a floor, "Showing up, learning to communicate with others, take responsibility, ...those things are more easily learned than taught."
Hockett said the program focuses on incumbent workers who want to transition to higher skilled jobs, but also focuses on women, minorities and veterans to increase diversity in the tech industry, a white maledominated sector.
According to Hockett, education has to move quickly. Degree courses are usually six to eight years behind what industry needs.
"Data scientist will be the number one job needed soon, so much data is being gathered. Only two universities offer degrees in it. At Oregon State University Cascades only eight students graduated in computer science this year. That doesn't begin to solve my need for 300 people."
So, to fill data scientist positions, she foresees companies taking on statisticians or anyone with a good mind for numbers who are able to run large databases."
Says Sayre, "The type of jobs kids now in elementary school will be doing haven't even been invented yet."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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