Apprenticeships in the Tech Sector: Updating a Traditional Model for the 21st Century

Apprenticeships have long served as a strategy to help people gain access to higher wage careers in industries such as construction and trades. Many technology companies have begun to explore adapting the on-the-job training apprenticeship model for the tech sector. This has created an emerging opportunity to leverage tech apprenticeships as a strategy to diversify the Bay Area’s tech workforce while helping underserved communities’ access high-wage jobs in the region’s tech sector. This report sets forth a set of recommendations to successfully scale apprenticeships in the region based on an examination of the operations, successes, and failures of tech companies in the Bay Area with existing apprenticeship programs.

Executive Summary

Apprenticeships have served as a strategy to help people gain access to jobs through on-the-job training for decades, most notably in the construction trades. While the tech sector is not traditionally associated with apprenticeships, emerging programs in the Bay Area have revealed that applying the on-the-job training apprenticeship model to roles in software engineering and information technology can be a successful strategy—particularly helping to move people to high-wage positions without a traditional four-year degree.

Many tech companies in the Bay Area have already explored hosting apprenticeships or other forms of on-the-job training. Most of the existing programs were created to either build diversity on technical teams or gain a leg up in the tight technical talent market in the region. Regardless of the programs’ initial intentions, they all provide insights into the feasibility of expanding apprenticeships in the tech sector.

Through an examination of the operations, successes, and failures of tech companies with existing apprenticeship programs, this report explores the barriers that stand in the way of expanding preliminary apprenticeship programs and uncovers a pathway to successfully scaling apprenticeship programs in the region. The report is based on a set of 30 interviews with employers, training providers, educators, public agencies, and intermediary organizations that all play a role in the operations of the current apprenticeship programs in the Bay Area. The findings from those conversations inform a set of recommended next steps to grow the number of apprenticeship roles that help low-wage workers from underserved communities access high-wage jobs in the Bay Area’s tech sector.

While many of these interviews were conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, apprenticeships can take on even greater importance in an economic recovery. Given the job losses across much of the service sector—and uncertainty as to whether or not all of those jobs will return—innovative training programs that can improve workers’ career trajectories are paramount for an equitable, long-term economic recovery.

Apprenticeships in non-traditional sectors, such as technology, are one tool that the state and the region can promote to ensure that displaced workers have as many opportunities to re-enter the workforce as possible. There are roles in tech that are ripe for on-the-job training, which can open career pathways to those without a four-year degree and lead to more diversity in the tech workforce.

The following recommendations provide a framework for how tech apprenticeships can grow to serve low-income and underserved populations in the Bay Area through investment, employer collaboration, and communication between employers and training providers:

1. Expand connections between training partners that target low-income, underrepresented populations and tech employers with apprenticeship programs.

2. Facilitate partnership between community colleges and non-profit training providers to match rigor of instruction with employer talent needs.

3. Identify a source of financial support for underserved populations, allowing individuals seeking to make a career switch into tech the time to develop soft and hard skills to become competitive apprenticeship applicants.

4. Determine the aspects and costs of apprenticeship programs that can be shared or made more efficient through employer collaboration.

5. Increase access to on-the-job tech training by expanding access to state funding and tax credits for apprenticeships in tech.

6. Increase the appetite and redefine base level qualifications for entry level technical roles.