Tech apprenticeship coalition to make workers ‘tomorrow ready’

Apprenticeships are expanding into new industries and IBM and the Consumer Technology Association are joining forces to bring them to scale.

Apprenticeships are breaking free from tradition and into new areas where the careers of the future are: in technology and tech-adjacent industries. A new coalition led by IBM and the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) launched this week to shepherd this new paradigm and make thousands of new apprentices “tomorrow ready.”

On Wednesday, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty announced the CTA Apprenticeship Coalition during her keynote address at CES 2019, one of the world’s largest technology showcases. With buzz about artificial intelligence and automation surrounding the event and abounding in media, Rometty links the emergence of these so-called job-killing technologies to their potential for job-creating opportunities.

“I believe that 100% of jobs will change in the era of AI and that productivity gains resulting from these technologies will ultimately create more jobs than they replace. The priority right now is to help people around the world prepare for these jobs and benefit more from the prosperity that new technology creates,” Rometty wrote in an op-ed for CNN Business.

The coalition is comprised of 17 leading companies. IBM along with corporate heavyweights Walmart, Toyota, Bosch and start-ups like delivery service Postmates are uniting behind a common cause: to implement more apprenticeships within their companies and across industry sectors. The aim is to deliver digital skills training for young people and mid-career workers alike through public-private partnerships, so no workers are left behind.

IBM apprentices
Rometty with IBM apprentices at IBM’s CES 2019 keynote address. Image via CES and YouTube.

According to a joint release from CTA and IBM, the coalition will help prepare workers for “new-collar jobs.” They include entry-level tech support, software development and tech-enabled jobs where digital skills are prized and in short supply. Additionally, jobs in high-skill careers like engineering and data analysis are in demand. With a half-million unfilled tech jobs, the CTA says apprenticeships can bridge this skills gap while providing an upward career path.

“Our commitment — and our entire industry’s obligation — is to build a workforce that is ‘tomorrow ready.’ This new Coalition allows us to scale apprenticeship programs nationwide and prepare more workers for the surging number of new collar jobs that require in-demand skills, but not always a four-year degree,” Rometty said in the release.

The initiative spans 20 states to reach into America’s heartland and underserved communities that were overlooked as technology transformed coastal cities into high-tech oases. IBM’s registered apprenticeship program, which began in 2017 and Rometty said has “grown nearly twice as fast as expected,” will serve as the guide for apprenticeships created through the initiative.

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The CTA’s report that tech executives will struggle over the next five years to hire skilled workers joins a litany of stories and studies affirming a skilled worker shortage. Blue-collar industries are feeling the effects of a tight labor market too. But manufacturing and construction have long enjoyed apprenticeships to infuse new blood into their industries. Now other industries, insurance, for example, are using the apprenticeship model — and guidance from their European owners — to replenish their ranks.

The benefits of the apprenticeship model, where workers “learn while they earn” have garnered the tech industry’s interest in recent years. The traditional way for workers to break into tech is too costly and time-consuming for many students, leading to the looming worker shortage and a stark diversity gap. Tech giants Google and Apple are ditching college degrees as a job requirement to court skilled workers who didn’t have the means to get a college education.

The first registered apprenticeship for the tech industry emerged a few years ago when Techtonic Group created a Department of Labor-recognized program to train software developers. Techtonic CEO Heather Terenzio explained at WorkingNation’s Work-Based Learning Town Hall that apprenticeships offer a faster and more affordable pathway that opens the door for workers to enter tech careers. Apprenticeships can reach into untapped talent sources, and provide the low-cost training that can be out of reach for economically-disadvantaged students.

With the reauthorization of the Perkins Act to fund career and technical education and more federal funding for apprenticeships, it’s no surprise top companies are taking advantage of subsidized work-based learning opportunities. The power of public-private partnerships to align job-training programs with needed skills is emerging to meet the challenges of closing the skills gap. The CTA Apprenticeship Coalition is a product of this new way of thinking.

The choice of Rometty to use “tomorrow ready” to describe the skill-boosting effect apprenticeships can have on workers is an interesting departure from “future-ready.” The implications are in words said and the technology on display at CES 2019, the future isn’t too far from today.

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