Tech-related costs continue to rise because of the lack of skilled information technology (IT), cybersecurity and software development professionals to meet demand, intensifying competition among technology companies for middle-skill positions. As technological development increases exponentially, more and more companies have realized the value of apprenticeship programs in filling their tech workforce gaps. Tech apprenticeships integrate work with education to redefine and expand the tech talent pool.

So, what are the things to keep in mind while planning and developing a tech apprenticeship program? Before jumping headfirst into research and development, recognizing critical issues within the tech talent pool is a pivotal step toward creating a successful apprentice program. The problems predominantly lie in the tech industry’s definition of top talent.

Despite strides in diversifying other sectors, the tech industry has lacked inclusion. To this day, the tech industry largely scouts talent from the same pipelines, resulting in an influx of white, cis-male college graduates. According to research from Zippia, 73.2% of IT professionals are male and 58.9% are white. With tech executives stating that finding qualified employees is their most significant issue for 2022, they must look to diversifying the tech workforce through apprenticeships as a solution.

Another issue limiting the technology talent pool are tech recruiters’ fixation on having college degrees as a requirement. As things are, the research revealed 92% of the IT workforce acquired at least an associate degree, with 12% acquiring a master’s degree. On the contrary, only 3% of the IT workforce stopped continuing education after earning a high school diploma. The truth is, IT professionals can be sufficiently trained without a college degree or college-level experience. Apprenticeships can make college degrees far less a determining factor by blending real-world experiences with training and education.

With these issues in mind, let’s examine six effective best practices for founding and maintaining a successful apprenticeship program for IT workers.

1. Meet Compliance and Guidelines

Recognized apprenticeships must be registered through the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Being recognized by the DOL brings state and federal tax credits, national credentials, technical assistance and support and federal resources. There are a handful of options to register for an apprenticeship program, each representative of the corporation’s size creating the program.

This includes the National Guideline Standards, the National Program Standards, and the Local Apprenticeship Program Standards. The guidelines for a registered, recognized apprenticeship program, regardless of which option is chosen, include structured on-the-job training, related instruction, reward for skill gains and national occupational credentials. Some states have policies requiring a minimum age or high school diploma.

2. Capitalize on Partnerships

One of the best ways to start a technology apprenticeship program is with a partner. Partnerships create massive talent webs that can span the country while collaborating to empower each other’s talent. The most successful apprenticeships are created through collaboration. Identifying local community organizations like community colleges, local education, labor organizations or the public workforce system to partner with will excel the growth of your apprenticeship program. Partnerships can easily detect pain points while also heavily supporting the recruitment process.

3. Proper Investment Will Pay Off

No apprenticeship program can succeed without proper funding. Any program will need extensive investing to get on its feet and start developing talent. Funding is required to identify the knowledge and skills learned, pay progressively higher wages as apprentices’ skills progress, create a curriculum, bring on the right mentors, provide an appropriate work environment and invest heavily in the apprentices. This investment will pay off in the long run by improving retention, creating a new pathway for talent and forming a unique opportunity for companies.

4. Get Feedback From Stakeholders

Creating a new apprenticeship requires you to understand exactly what kind of work your apprentices will be doing. Ultimately, they’re going to be working closely with your existing talent. These subject matter experts (SMEs) are all educators, people who will oversee the work of your future apprentices with buy-in and knowledge that will be crucial to the success of your program. Having them help craft what the apprenticeship track looks like will ensure that the program will be ready on day one.

5. Create a Learning Pathway

With millions of American workers at risk of being left behind in a technology and automation centric economy, creating a new pathway for the non-traditional workforce ensures they will not be left in the dust. None of this can be accomplished if the organization does not fully commit to its apprenticeship program. These programs do not just happen overnight. They require extensive testing, funding and most of all, time. If financial strains begin to impact an organization, the apprenticeship program should not be dissolved but, instead, reinforced. A corporation must show faith in its apprentices for the program to succeed. There is no quick fix to the IT labor shortage, but committing to an apprenticeship program will show steady return on investment (ROI) over time.

6. Extend Beyond Technical Skills

While an apprenticeship track focuses on the practical tasks your apprentices will be doing on the job, someone starting a new career often has various other skillsets they need to be trained on. Soft skills training, like professional communication and time management, are often critical for launching a successful career, and folks coming from low-paying hourly jobs might need financial literacy training to take advantage of higher wages and stay on track to success.

In some cases, wraparound services may be needed as well. Consider who you’re bringing on and where they’re coming from to ensure they can thrive in the new work environment. Apprenticeships can effectively fill talent gaps while simultaneously achieving diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts and creating a modern 21st-century corporation. Beyond DEI and workforce gaps, apprenticeships can potentially change how we view higher education and employment. With proper funding, insight and commitment, apprenticeships can become a norm in the tech industry.