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The Role of Apprenticeship in Advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility  

As WTIA and Apprenti recognize and celebrate Black History Month this February, it calls to mind how far we have come in advancing equity in the workplace. And in many respects, how far we still have to go.

Following the Covid-19 pandemic’s unequal impacts on workers (especially those from underrepresented populations) and 2020’s racial reckoning, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has taken center stage as a practice to create a more inclusive, equitable workforce. Yet many barriers to employment remain for underrepresented groups, including BIPOC, women, Veterans, and individuals with disabilities. In addition, a pervasive talent shortage is plaguing the nation, and its impact is being felt across multiple industries, including tech.  

Registered Apprenticeship is a workforce solution recognized by the Department of Labor that enables employers to proactively promote DEI in the workplace while also addressing skills shortages by providing related classroom instruction and on-the-job training for in-demand roles. At WTIA, DEI is at the core of our mission. We created Apprenti, the first viable tech apprenticeship program in the U.S., to help employers build inclusive workplaces while providing women, BIPOC individuals, Veterans, and people with disabilities an on-ramp to launch careers in tech. In the U.S. labor market, 92% of jobs require digital skills. Registered Apprenticeship can help America’s employers find the talent they need while diversifying their workforce and hiring practices, providing unprecedented opportunities for underrepresented individuals, including Black talent.

Why Registered Apprenticeship?

Although apprenticeship is common in Europe and Canada, it has been slow to catch on in the U.S. As apprenticeships transition from the trades to tech and America’s employers seek alternative pathways to source diverse candidates, however, Registered Apprenticeship is garnering attention and gaining traction.

Historically, access to jobs that pair family-sustaining wages, such as those in technology, has been dependent on the ability to earn a four-year college degree, and for workers from other countries, access to employment visas. However, the number of visas issued annually is limited, and degree requirements can disproportionately screen out individuals who don’t go to college or graduate with a degree. In fact, 79% of jobs paying more than $50,000 require a four-year college degree, which automatically disqualifies 76% of Black individuals in the U.S., according to Apprenti partner OneTen, a coalition of executives and companies committed to advancing one million Black individuals without four-year college degrees into family-sustaining careers over the next 10 years. 

Registered apprenticeships offer opportunities for individuals without college degrees to learn new skills while getting paid, as well as cultivate a professional network and gain access to living-wage jobs. As such, Registered Apprenticeship may be an ideal pathway to economic prosperity for Black talent, as well as individuals from other minority groups.

Currently, Black talent is vastly underrepresented in the apprenticeship workforce. There are more than 210,000 apprentices currently employed in the U.S.; of those, just 18% are Black.
However, recent studies indicate that apprenticeships combined with a skills-based approach to hiring may play an integral role in advancing Black talent into more senior roles. Given that there was only a 1% increase in Black representation in large tech companies between 2014 and 2021, according to Brookings Institute, and only 7% representation across the tech industry, according to Apprenti data, Registered Apprenticeship has the potential to move the needle on workforce diversity. 

For its part, Apprenti has a proven track record of increasing diversity and equity at a significant cost savings to employers. Black talent represents 22% of apprentices placed with Apprenti; compared to 18% overall. Moreover, 91% of Apprenti apprentices are from underrepresented groups. Eighty-eight percent of Apprenti apprentices are retained, with employers experiencing an average cost savings of 30% over traditionally sourced talent. 

Apprenticeship as a DEI workforce development strategy 

Why should employers focus on apprenticeship as a solution to help them create more diverse, equitable, inclusive workplaces now? Simply put, because DEI is a competitive imperative. A sea change is coming in America’s demographics; its workforce is sure to follow the same trajectory. In the next 10 years, a majority of workers will be non-white. Looking at the tech industry, which is relentlessly competitive and employs mostly white men, if companies do not become experts at building inclusive workplaces, they will fall behind competitors that are able to attract, develop, and retain diverse talent.

This shift requires employers to reimagine their hiring practices. An apprenticeship program can complement a DEI-focused strategy to diversify the workforce. Identifying, hiring, and training talented diverse apprentices for lucrative careers can help improve the diversity pipeline in any organization. Apprenticeships provide access to career opportunities that not only provide a path to higher-paying jobs, but also better opportunities within an organization. 

There are three critical elements of a DEI-focused workforce development strategy:

  • Leadership Commitment and Development. Leaders must be bought in and fully committed to a DEI-focused workforce development strategy and invest in long-term success. A comprehensive DEI strategy must include not only activities focused on bringing diversity into the organization. It must also highlight the importance of nurturing an inclusive company culture where Black, Indigenous, and other people of color can thrive. 

Focusing on how the climate of inclusion in the organization requires acknowledging and addressing systemic inequities that affect people from diverse identities – including those from LGBTQIA+ communities, people who are foreign-born, and those who identify with a disability. 

Leaders who make way for diversity take an active stance about ensuring DEI values are deeply embedded within the company culture. A strategy-based commitment means competency attainment and mastery through leadership coaching and development programs such as the partnership between WTIA and The Diversity Way-Maker ™ Consultancy.       

  • Establish clear and achievable goals. The WTIA Anti-Racism in Tech roadmap was established in response to the global racial reckoning that came about following the tragic murder of George Floyd. The roadmap challenged signatory companies to examine their recruitment, hiring and retention practices and set clear goals toward diversifying the tech workforce. 

The most effective diversity hiring goals consist of SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Understanding demographics from the candidate recruitment pool is a first step. However, those setting goals must also be wary of relying solely on publicly available data. Because of historic inequities, people of color tend to be underrepresented in Census counts and in workforce data. 

A workforce development goal developed with a DEI lens may set an aspirational numerical goal for a particular underrepresented community (and no, this does not mean quotas), for example Blacks or Latinx. An example of a SMART hiring goal may be: “By the end of 2025, increase the number Black coders employed at prevailing wage by X% of 2023 baseline data.” This statement specifies the current and future desired state of the hiring goal, and sets a timeframe for achievement.  

  • Focus on Data. Structured DEI programs focused on talent development such as apprenticeships, mentorships, and career succession can benefit from robust data collection and analyses. Talent management—and its operationalization through diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI)—must be data-focused. It is important to have a strategic approach to using data to tell a compelling story about how DEI is integrated into talent management activities, including sourcing, hiring, onboarding and training apprentices. Apprenticeship-focused data examples include quantitative and qualitative data about engagement and integration into the company culture; evidence of advancement; apprenticeship participation in mandatory DEI training, hiring and recruitment referrals, among other measures. 

One caveat: Be wary about focusing only on positive data stories about your efforts. It is equally important to pay close attention to diversity attrition rates among apprentices. If certain departments within the company are having trouble retaining apprentices in general, look into root causes embedded in the company culture. Exit interview data may help identify challenges and tell a fuller story about gaps and opportunities for improvement. 

Implementing an apprenticeship program and DEI strategy in your organization doesn’t have to be daunting or complex, if you have the right partners to help you get started.

Apprenti provides a full-service solution for adopting and creating apprenticeships within your company using our holistic approach, or we can act as a consultant to help you build your own in-house program. Learn more about us.

The DEI Center of Excellence at WTIA and The Diversity WayMaker are consistently innovating to provide timely, relevant solutions to help company leaders master core DEI competencies and confidently integrate DEI strategies into the culture of their organizations. Discover how we can help you transform your organization into a workplace where everyone thrives.

 

Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship (PIA) partners with Apprenti and offers guidance and support in the implementation of inclusive apprenticeship programs. PIA collaborates with employers and apprenticeship intermediaries, like Apprenti, to expand inclusive apprenticeship programs, benefiting both employers and people with disabilities. Additionally, PIA offers

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