YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The construction and electrician trades have long had an apprenticeship pathway to success.
Why would the same type of apprenticeship training also not work great for those in the information technology field?
It does, according to Robert Eggleston, coordinator of career counseling at the Educational Service Center of Eastern Ohio, and Lindsey Ekstrand, director of the IT Workforce Accelerator program at Youngstown State University.
Eggleston and Ekstrand have developed an IT support preapprenticeship opportunity for high school students, leading to possible IT apprenticeships in the future.
“The approach to training is the same. It’s just the actual skills and credentials being earned are different. But the structure is the exact same,” says Ekstrand.
The IT preapprenticeship program was just approved this summer and is ready to launch at the high school level this fall, she notes.
While preapprentices, the high school students will have 60 hours of work-based learning, either paid or unpaid. Some will be working through their district schools, learning with IT professionals who work there. Others will be mentored by businesses operating in the area.
“We have a lot of kids who are trying to get into the tech field, and we know information technology is an in-demand field,” Eggleston says.
Right now, Eggleston says there are 14 or 15 high schools where administrators are excited to have their juniors or seniors complete the preapprenticeship. The training program is funded and they can earn industry-recognized credentials such as Microsoft and CompTIA through YSU, while also working with their employers.
While it makes sense for technology companies to take on IT preapprentices, Eggleston and Ekstrand would like to see other companies thinking outside the box. Any company with an IT department, even a one-person department, can mentor a high school student in the program, they say.
That can include additive manufacturers or other manufacturers that use information technology, hospitals with large tech teams, and businesses with IT support handled by one person and schools. All are great fits for the program.
Ekstrand points to one area high school that is getting ready to refresh all the Chromebooks at the school. Having a preapprenticeship student in the mix will give teachers help and be a great experience for the student.
“What an amazing opportunity for the students to be a part of a whole school computer refresh,” says Ekstrand. “What great hands-on experience for that student and all the work that they do in this preapprenticeship. We’re going to be able to add to their résumé and this is going to make them a more rounded employee as they enter the workforce.”
Companies often provide training for their new tech employees, Eggleston says. But by participating in this program, the training will be more structured with milestones built right into it.
“It would ultimately prepare them to walk directly into an apprenticeship program with an IT company,” says Ekstrand.
“Even if that kid decides to go on to YSU and pursue a four-year IT degree, they could still work for that company (as an apprentice) while they earn their degree,” Eggleston says.
“Or there are plenty of IT jobs where you don’t need a four-year degree, where it is on-the-job training and just getting certifications… This is a great jump start for that because you have already essentially tested this kid out before they even have been hired, and that’s the preapprenticeship piece.”
LEAD TO APPRENTICESHIPS
Once they complete the preapprenticeship and graduate from high school, the students could continue on to complete the full apprenticeship part of the program. This program is a one-year, 2,000-hour work-based program with an additional 144 hours of technical-related classroom instruction at YSU through its division of Workforce Education Innovation.
Preapprentices who were paid for their 60 hours will have those hours count toward their 2,000.
Apprentices will learn job readiness skills and earn additional certifications.
YSU was recently chosen to lead the regional hub in 5G broadband workforce readiness. The initiative is called the Northeast Ohio Broadband and 5G Node. The program is funded through the U.S. Department of Labor.
According to Ekstrand, while the apprentices are training at YSU, they could choose the 5G training and certifications needed for a variety of positions in the high-speed internet field. Businesses are partnering with the 5G program, and looking for those interested in becoming tower technicians, fiber optic technicians or working in other areas of networking and software.
“This is going to open up so many more opportunities for students and employers too,” says Ekstrand. “It’s going to increase the talent pipeline. So it’s really exciting.”
The apprenticeship training can be individualized to the business hiring the apprentice, allowing it to focus on the skills the company is seeking.
“We all know about the skills gap, the shortage in the workforce right now, and so an apprenticeship is beneficial for both the employee and the employer because it really is a commitment for at least a year,” Ekstrand says. She notes companies can start with someone in high school or soon after graduation to help create the employees they are seeking.
“Studies have shown that apprenticeships really increase retention and engagement,” says Ekstrand. “We know there is hands-on, on-the-job training. There is the learning culture behind an apprenticeship. There are milestones in apprenticeships. So apprentices know exactly what the end goal is. They know exactly the skills and competencies they will learn. They will know how often they will get a wage increase and what position they will be hired for.”
Eggleston and Ekstrand are looking for companies interested in partnering with the program – as mentors for high school students and to hire and train them when they seek full apprenticeships after graduation.
“We definitely need more,” Ekstrand says. “We’re expecting this to be very popular with high schools and their administrators pushing it to their students… We’re definitely looking for more companies, more industry partners.”
Companies not in the skilled trades or manufacturing fields might see apprenticeships as a new way of finding future employees. Eggleston says such a program is not new in Ohio, but it is new in this area.
With the anticipated success of this program, the educators hope to create additional apprenticeship training programs. Eggleston says they are interested in expanding this model to other industries, such as health care, hospitality and tourism.
“With the state pushing this apprenticeship model, we would like to take it that step forward and bring in some more businesses and more things than just construction and manufacturing, because it really is a great model,” says Eggleston.
“Companies have to get creative now,” Ekstrand adds. “We know there’s a shortage out there and the skills gap is real. So getting creative is crucial to survive.”
Businesses that are considering getting involved in the IT preapprenticeship and apprenticeship programs, or would like more information, should e-mail Ekstrand at lfekstrand@YSU.edu or Eggleston at firstname.lastname@example.org.