Betting big on tech apprenticeships

Bootcamp pioneer General Assembly bets on tech apprenticeships, with two-year programs heavy on mentoring. Also, Grand Valley State partners with five employers on a novel form of co-op.

This issue of The Job looks at why bootcamp pioneer General Assembly is betting on tech apprenticeships, with two-year programs heavy on mentoring. Also, Grand Valley State partners with five employers on a novel form of co-op.

Bootcamp or Apprenticeship?

General Assembly, a well-established U.S. bootcamp provider, is moving deeper into tech apprenticeships.

Through its partnership with Interapt, an IT consulting and workforce development firm based in Louisville, Ky., General Assembly this week announced a new “apprenticeship solution” for employers. GA said the apprenticeships powered by Interapt are designed to “fast-track high-potential, overlooked talent into careers in software engineering, data, and cybersecurity.”

Some of Interapt’s current apprenticeship programs are registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, which means they are required to offer participants a paid job, regular raises, an industry-vetted focus, on-the-job learning and mentorship, classroom instruction, a focus on equity and inclusion, and formal credentials. (Work Shift recently wrote about the distinction between registered apprenticeships and their “little a” apprenticeship alternatives.)

The quality controls and eligibility for government grants help make registered programs the gold standard. But the requirements and approval process can be a big lift for companies, particularly those that are just getting started with apprenticeships.

By teaming up with Interapt on its apprenticeship push, GA taps into the tech company’s experience with registered programs, as well as with one-on-one coaching, mentorship, and peer networking. The bootcamp company will provide the tech training.

Simply opening the door to diverse talent isn’t enough, says Lisa Lewin, GA’s CEO. As a result, the company is focusing on longer-term apprenticeships. (Read a Q&A with her on the concept over at Work Shift.)

“Retention and economic mobility depend on helping workers build not just skills, but also a sense of belonging,” she says. “It’s an approach we’re referring to as ‘stayships’—two-year programs that allow for more thoughtful mentorship and coaching to assess workforce readiness, career pathways, internal sponsorship, and cultural fit.”

GA’s pitch to employers is a “derisked” way to hire trained, entry-level tech workers for full-time roles. It creates a stronger and more diverse hiring pipeline for companies, the bootcamp provider says, while offering the added benefit that apprentices are trained on-site for specific, needed job roles. 

“By marrying sourcing, hiring, and training, with Interapt, into a single model, we can save companies valuable time,” says Lewin, “while also creating a much more robust and integrated employee experience.” 

Evolving Model: GA says its new apprenticeship program isn’t a major shift for the company.

“Our work has always been about pushing the envelope and creating new solutions to solve two long-standing challenges—a persistent tech talent shortage and longstanding equity gaps in the tech workforce,” Lewin says.

GA has collaborated with major tech employers, including Adobe and Disney, on learning-while-earning efforts that closely resemble traditional apprenticeships, it says in a new white paper. In addition to Interapt, Lewin says GA has helped CVS, ServiceNow, and other companies across industries to build internal mobility for workers and to improve retention through on-the-job learning.

“The common thread among those successful partnerships is that the employers are ready to make a bigger, systemic change,” she says, “because they recognize that investing in apprenticeships will help them build a more resilient and more equitable workforce.”

The Adecco Group, a staffing firm based in Switzerland, bought GA in 2018 for $413M. That deal was eclipsed a year later when 2U announced its $750M purchase of Trilogy, another large bootcamp provider.

During the pandemic, GA phased out many of its physical campuses and moved more into digital and hybrid offerings. The company’s revenue also took hits, including a 20% year-over-year drop in the fourth quarter of 2021, according to a corporate filing from Adecco.

GA says its bootcamp enrollments bounced back last year. And the company said in 2022 that it had helped more than 18K learners launch careers over the last decade. Even so, Adecco says GA has been pivoting away from a business-to-customer-focused bootcamp toward more of a business-to-business talent platform.

The apprenticeship rollout with Interapt looks like a good move for GA, says Gordon MacRae, a U.K.-based writer. MacRae, who previously worked for Multiverse and GA, writes a newsletter on the bootcamp industry.

“GA needed a partner to make this work given the operational lift to running apprenticeships,” MacRae says, who adds that the company may be playing catch-up on its brand recognition with apprenticeships.

The Kicker: “That said, their country-wide scale and existing enterprise relationships are a massive advantage here compared to existing providers,” says MacRae.

Enhanced Co-Ops in Michigan

Grand Valley State University last year rolled out an unusual partnership with a large healthcare system. And it’s now offering a similar work-and-learn program with five locally based employers that span engineering, software development, financial technology, and other industries.

This approach, which may be novel in higher education, began with the announcement last April that the nonprofit BHSH System would spend $19M on scholarships for nursing students at the university. Qualifying students get $10K in support annually during the last two years they pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing. In exchange, they agree to commit to one year of work at the healthcare system for each year of aid they receive.

The new program will pair students with partner employers to offer an “enhanced co-op experience.” Students will work with the companies as paid interns for one year. They also commit to an additional year of employment after graduation and will earn a certificate in business or technology, depending on the employer’s needs.

Dubbed the Laker Accelerated Talent Link, the pilot program is set to kick off in August with an initial cohort of 25 students, mostly from the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The participating companies are Acrisure, Amway, Cascade Engineering, Corewell Health, and Michigan Software Labs. The university itself also will be an employer partner for participating students.

Philomena Mantella, Grand Valley’s president, says the university plans to expand well beyond this initial pilot program.

“We think we can really grow this,” she says. “In some ways it’s a simple concept—to add value to a degree.”

Grand Valley wanted to work with smaller employers as well as biggies like Amway for the project, to get a richer mix. And she says the companies will be at the table to help shape the experiment. “We want the employers to be engaged,” says Mantella.

The attempt to connect an internship to a job after employment is an interesting and positive new model, says Deborah Kobes, interim vice president of JFF’s Center for Apprenticeship and Work-Based Learning.

Employers often use internships to recruit hires. And Kobes says this approach seems to create more predictability for both students and companies. She also praised the explicit connection between its education and work components.

“Something to keep an eye on is the one-year commitment to work postgraduation and whether this will lead to penalties or disqualifications for students experiencing hardships such as family care needs or housing or transportation difficulties,” says Kobes. “It would be great to see employers increasing their available retention supports to mitigate these possible inequities.”

Open Tabs

Short-Term Pell

A hearing this week in the U.S. House of Representatives on “American Education in Crisis” focused heavily on value and workforce outcomes in higher education, including the potential to expand the Pell Grant program to short-term, job-focused programs. Governor Jared Polis of Colorado, a Democrat, threw his support behind a greater focus on economic outcomes for students and highlighted his push to expand apprenticeships and to make community college credentials free for students in high-demand fields like healthcare, construction trades, and advanced manufacturing. Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, and Scott Pulsipher, president of Western Governors University, also testified.

Career-Connected Learning

One of Jill Biden’s guests for the State of the Union address was Kate Foley, a 10th-grade computer-integrated manufacturing student. Foley attends a large public K-12 district in Illinois that features career-connected learning across 39 fields, with an emphasis on community college partnerships. “Not everyone needs a four-year degree. It’s all about jobs,” Biden said last year during a visit to Foley’s school.

Trade Jobs

The Bay Area faces a shortage of electricians amid a surge of interest in EV chargers, heat pumps, and induction stoves, Emily Pontecorvo reports for Canary Media. A projected 21% of U.S. electricians will hit retirement age in the next decade. But attracting students and retaining community college instructors is a challenge for the trade, which has a median annual wage of $94K in the Bay Area. 

Alternative Credentials

More than a third of learners who completed MOOC-based alternative credential programs—Coursera Specializations or edX Micromasters—reported improving their job performance, according to a report from Fiona Hollands and other researchers. But financial gains were less apparent for the 2,288 credential earners across 189 countries, 25% of whom lived in the U.S., with another 15% in India.

Apprenticeship Hub

The American Association of Community Colleges, in partnership with Tesla and Panasonic, has been awarded an $8M grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to develop an apprenticeship hub in the electric vehicle supply chain field. The hub will seek to bring together large employers, community colleges, and workforce partners to create a scalable model for training workers for EV-related jobs.

Digital Skills

An analysis of 43M job ads found that 92% require digital skills. The demand is robust across all industries, according to the report from the National Skills Coalition and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, even for entry-level jobs. Smaller businesses have almost identical digital skills demands compared to larger ones. But they rely more heavily on education and workforce partners to help upskill workers.

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