A Washington apprenticeship program for tech workers has already drawn interest from more than 1,000 applicants.
A new, federally funded apprenticeship program aimed at diversifying the tech workforce in Washington has drawn interest from more than 1,000 applicants in just a few months.
And two of its earliest participants have already started yearlong, paid apprenticeships.
The program, called Apprenti, is being run by an industry trade association, the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA). It’s funded in part by a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, as well as with private money. It does not cost participants anything.
WTIA says it is the first registered tech apprenticeship program in the nation. It’s based on the idea that a short, intensive burst of training can be enough to lead a prospective employee to a midlevel, yearlong apprenticeship that can result in a permanent job at a technology company.
The trade association is working with Microsoft, Cisco, Code Fellows and other organizations to provide the training, then place the students in paid apprenticeships to further their training for another year.
Apprenti focuses on getting women, veterans and underrepresented minorities into tech fields — groups that have found it hard to break into the industry.
Shawn Farrow is one of the early participants. Farrow graduated from The Evergreen State College in 2009 and had a hard time finding work because of the recession. He took a job with a moving company and met a lot of people relocating to the area in the tech industry — a clear sign that this was the fastest-growing industry around here, he said.
Farrow, who is biracial, went back to school and earned a two-year associate degree at Renton Technical College in computer science. “Renton Tech taught a bunch of different (computer) languages, but not enough of each one,” he said. “I felt I was underskilled.”
For Farrow, all it took was a 10-week class through the coding boot camp Code Fellows to boost his skills. Now he’s been hired for a one-year apprenticeship as a web developer at Avvo, a Seattle-based company that aims to make it easier to find legal help.
Jennifer Carlson, the executive director of WTIA Workforce Institute, said every student starts with a minimum apprenticeship salary of $42,000 and gets a 10 percent bump at the sixth-month mark. The hope is that the candidate will do well enough to get a permanent job offer with the company at the end of a year.
Apprenti uses an assessment test it developed to figure out a potential employee’s skills and deficiencies, then does some additional screening to identify the most promising candidates and match them to companies looking for tech help, Carlson said.
The companies know the people they’re interviewing aren’t skilled enough for the jobs yet, but that “we’re sending the best-quality candidates, based on their soft skills and their ability to learn,” she said.
If the candidate gets a go-ahead from the company, it’s the equivalent of a job offer — one that’s contingent upon finishing the training, she said.
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Jared Call, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran, is another one of Apprenti’s first apprentices. He started with F5 as a network security administrator in February.
Call was a pilot in the Air Force — he flew B-52s — and already had a bachelor’s degree. He had planned to use the GI bill to earn a graduate degree in engineering. But Call, who has a family, decided the graduate degree would take too long. “I was ready to move past the academics and get into the workforce,” he said.
Call was thinking about doing a coding boot camp when he learned about Apprenti. He switched gears and spent three months taking live, interactive courses over the internet. He received two Cisco certifications in network security, which primed him for the apprenticeship with F5.
Carlson said WTIA is planning to make the program national in scope. Its goal in Washington is to have trained 600 people by 2020.
One measure of its success: Apprenti has standing orders from some of the region’s big tech companies to hire 20 new apprentices every quarter. The most sought-after skills: software application developers and network security.
“We’ve had good early results,” Carlson said.