Biden’s apprenticeship program is aiming to fix tech talent

By | April 3, 2022

Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. It’s been a busy week for workplace news and a historic one for the labor movement: Amazon workers in Staten Island have unionized, the first group of Amazon workers to ever do so. My colleague Anna Kramer has been tracking the developments of the union push for quite some time now, and you can find her reporting here. Also, Washington is joining Colorado in requiring all job listings to have salary band information posted on them starting Jan. 1, 2023.

On another note, every organization I’ve ever been a part of has had discussions and hand-wringing over how to hire more diverse employees, especially in leadership. Inevitably, whenever this conversation comes up, someone claims that it’s hard to find those diverse candidates or (though we’re hearing less of this in the year of our lord 2022) that those candidates aren’t as qualified and you’d have to lower your standards to hire them.

I came across this thread from FT journalist John Burn-Murdoch yesterday that I thought made a good case for why, contrary to what many people on your hiring committee might say (or think, if they’re too afraid to say), intentionally aiming for diverse hires doesn’ t limit your pool, but in fact expands it. Do you agree?

Today: The rise of tech apprenticeships, the unionization of Staten Island Amazon warehouse workers, and how employees and managers actually feel about PTO.

— Michelle Ma, reporter (e-mail | twitter)

The rise of tech apprenticeships in the US

The Biden administration recently launched an initiative to expand the Registered Apprenticeship Program with the Apprenticeship Building America grant program. The grant will make $113 million in funding available to approved programs and is aimed at diversifying and modernizing the US’s apprenticeship programs — something many tech companies stand to benefit from amidst a persistent labor shortage.

Apprenticeships are traditionally associated with more manual trades, but there is rising interest in getting workers into tech roles through apprenticeships, rather than having to obtain certificates or a college degree.

  • Apprenticeships can help diversify the talent pipeline in the tech industry. A recent report from the Kapor Center, in partnership with the NAACP, found that according to federal registered apprenticeship data, 17% of apprentices from 2016 to 2021 were Black.
  • The programs have proven to be a stronger pipeline to the tech industry for Black workers in comparison to other avenues. In 2020, only 8% of bachelor’s degrees conferred in computer science were earned by Black grads. And coding boot camps didn’t fare much better: 6% of coding boot camp participants identified as Black, according to the Kapor Center’s data.

Since Protocol began covering tech apprenticeships last year, companies like Multiverse have expanded in the market and joined partnerships with some of the largest tech companies in the country. Multiverse, an education platform that matches and trains workers in apprenticeship programs, was co-founded in the UK by Euan Blair, son of former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Last year, it made a splash after announcing its first US tech partnership, a pilot apprenticeship program with Verizon.

Protocol caught up with Blair about his biggest learnings and takeaways in familiarizing the US market with tech apprenticeships over the past year.

It takes a mindset shift. “We had similar challenges in the UK, when we started, five [or] six years ago,” Blair said when asked what challenges Multiverse has had in trying to expand apprenticeship in the US “You asked any person what they thought when they heard the word apprenticeship, they would say: blue collar job, manual trades, plumbing, electrical engineer — whatever it might be.”

The more large tech companies take on the programs, the more other organizations see it as a viable way to acquire and train talent. Though, Blair made clear, apprenticeships are not a replacement for boot camps or certificate programs. They’re operating in a different lane entirely:

  • “If we take a step back and think about the ed tech landscape … you’ve got a series of companies that are doing good things. But there are many ways they’re operating within the current system as it stands,” he said. “So they’re making it faster and cheaper to go and acquire college degrees, or they’re allowing more people to access similar types of learning by joining online. Nothing wrong with that at all, but we are explicitly not about augmenting or removing friction from the current system.”
  • Instead, Multiverse is focused on what the world would look like if tech companies didn’t use the current traditional methods of screening and assessing people.

There’s a learning curve for all involved. It’s important corporate partners see this as a talent acquisition and retention play, said Blair. Many can misconstrue an apprenticeship as something akin to an internship, which tends to be more temporary, reliant on personal networks or structured around college attendance. 86% of the apprentices who complete an apprenticeship with Multiverse maintain long-term employment after the program, according to the company.

Last, apprenticeship programs are often introduced by CEOs and CTOs, but HR leaders play an important role in making sure the programs are successful.

  • “We’re often going into companies through CEOs, CIOs, CTOs and board level rather than through HR and talent, because we’re trying to ensure the business is ready for this,” Blair said.
  • Multiverse tries to make it a low lift for HR by handling the actual training, coaching and the fun work of registering with the Department of Labor as a nationally recognized apprenticeship.
  • Thus, a company’s people team can and should focus on making sure these new long-term employees are able to successfully settle into their new work environments. “It’s a big statement of intent about who you are as a company,” said Blair about the programs.

— Amber Burton, reporter (e-mail | twitter)

Amazon workers in Staten Island have unionized

In a historic win, Amazon workers at a warehouse in Staten Island have unionized. For context, they’re the first group of workers to ever successfully unionize at Amazon, and they won their election Friday morning. My colleague Anna Kramer wrote about the unexpected victory: Amazon, the country’s second-largest employer, has been a notoriously difficult place to unionize. The first serious attempt in Bessemer, Alabama, failed. This Staten Island election was led by a group of workers unaffiliated with any national union and led by activists Chris Smalls and Derrick Palmer, who rallyed workers around safety conditions and retaliation concerns.

Read the full story.

A MESSAGE FROM WORKPLACE FROM META

The last two years have seen deep, significant changes to the world of work. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted business leaders’ focus from maintaining their bottom line to the front line. Employee experience has become more important than ever to keep good workers happy – and to keep them within a business.

learn more

Workers with PTO are scared to take PTO

In depressing news, a recent survey from Skynova found that about one in five employees have avoided taking time off, either because they felt unsupported by their employer or because they had too much work. Here are some other takeaways from its survey of 800 American employees (200 of whom are managers):

  • 38.5% of employers have increased their PTO policy in the past year. Out of those employers, 47.8% of managers anticipated an uptick in employee happiness and 44.2% expected the same for productivity.
  • The majority of employees surveyed feel that sick days, mental health days and vaccination appointments should be mandatory PTO.
  • Eight out of 10 employees surveyed want mandatory PTO policies that are enforced, as in requiring workers to take a minimum number of days off.

A MESSAGE FROM WORKPLACE FROM META

Businesses are placing more priority on ensuring there are clear lines of communication for frontline workers to raise issues — something that’s vital given 43% of employees told McKinsey one of their fears about remote work was a reduction in collaboration with colleagues.

learn more

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to workplace@protocol.com. Have a great day, see you Tuesday.

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