Why a bootcamp pioneer is moving into apprenticeships

General Assembly is rolling out two-year apprenticeships, focused on bringing ‘overlooked talent’ into tech. We talked with Lisa Lewin, the company’s CEO, about the move.

General Assembly, one of the first and largest bootcamp providers in the U.S., is expanding into tech apprenticeships.

Through its partnership with Interapt, an IT consulting and workforce development firm based in Louisville, Ky., General Assembly said this week that it would create an “apprenticeship solution” for employers. The apprenticeships are designed to “fast-track high-potential, overlooked talent into careers in software engineering, data, and cybersecurity.”

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 tech training to apprentices.

Registered programs—which have quality controls and eligibility for government grants—are the gold standard for apprenticeships (more on that here and here). But the requirements and approval process can be a big lift for companies, particularly those that are just getting started with apprenticeships.

GA’s pitch to employers is a “derisked” way for them 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.

We take a look at GA’s changing footprint in the marketplace in the latest issue of The Job newsletter. Here, we talk with Lisa Lewin, the company’s CEO, about why GA was attracted to the apprenticeship model and how she thinks it may be the key to actually helping more women and people of color break into tech.

Why does GA find the apprenticeship model appealing? 
Lisa Lewin, CEO of GA

A: Our work has always been about pushing the envelope and creating new solutions to solve two longstanding challenges—a persistent tech talent shortage and longstanding equity gaps in the tech workforce. When we were founded 12 years ago, the world of work was very different—but for better or worse, those two mega trends haven’t fundamentally changed. Aspiring workers still need more affordable career pathways with opportunities for advancement, and employers still need new and, crucially, more-inclusive pipelines of talent.

Why are you focusing specifically on two- to three-year apprenticeships? 

A: It’s a really important question, especially as employers start to embrace the potential of apprenticeships and explore which models work best for them. Of course, apprenticeships are hardly new, but our take—and the reason we’re launching our own spin on the model—is that simply opening the door to diverse talent alone isn’t enough. 

We’re focused on longer-term apprenticeship programs because retention and economic mobility depend on helping workers build not just skills, but also a sense of belonging. 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.  We’ve seen that this model can also deepen our relationships with employers as we help them address talent gaps while boosting retention.

What permanent roles are these apprenticeships designed to lead to? 

A: As you know well, just about every company—regardless of whether it’s in the tech industry—needs workers with digital skills. Right now, demand is so far outstripping supply for some of these key positions, like data analysts and software developers, but employers often don’t know where to turn. They end up poaching talent from other companies, which drives up costs and traps them in a cycle of hiring from the same talent pool.  

Our approach to apprenticeships is about bringing new people into the industry who may not have considered these roles before—and whom employers might not have considered. The roles themselves will continue to evolve, but the goal remains the same: helping businesses future-proof their workforce, and enabling workers to learn the skills they need to navigate this increasingly tech-driven labor market. 

How does mentoring work under this apprenticeship model?

A: As I alluded to above, for the workers we’re trying to serve—including women, people of color, caregivers returning to the workforce, and many others from communities that have been underrepresented in the tech industry—whether they succeed on the job depends in large part on whether they see themselves in the professional spaces around them. That’s why our apprenticeship  model enables learners to network and work shoulder-to-shoulder with people with similar experiences or backgrounds. The upshot is that our graduates have the tendency to stay at companies and retain at higher rates than individuals who come from traditional means of hiring. 

Throughout the program, learners work closely alongside more senior-level colleagues, and have access to ongoing career coaching and a large network of peers to tap for future job opportunities. If we do our job well and really build that sense of belonging, it’ll help our employer partners build more intentional pathways to increase diversity at more senior levels of the business—and ensure that if we’re building a more diverse talent pipeline, it doesn’t stop at entry-level roles. 

Who are you hoping to serve? How optimistic are you that your approach can really broaden access to good jobs? 

A: Business leaders consistently tell us that they have two main talent problems: a lack of workers with the skills they need, and an ongoing struggle to diversify their talent pipeline. Of course, those challenges are two sides of the same coin. But there’s been little progress, in part because too few organizations have rethought and evolved their talent strategies from the ground up.  

The good news is that things are starting to change. Companies, like IBM, Google, and Bank of America, not to mention state governments, such as Pennsylvania, are making actual, concrete changes to their hiring policies because they recognize that you don’t need a college degree to thrive in the workplace. Opportunity@Work has done groundbreaking research showing that millions of these workers already have the skills to succeed in higher-wage roles, but are locked out because of degree requirements. That research is starting to catch on and inspire real change in the practices that are keeping diverse workers from entering skills-based roles.

The apprenticeship model itself is conducive to supporting workers without degrees, and those from historically underserved communities. Candidates are earning throughout their apprenticeship, including a living stipend, which removes a lot of the pressure for learners who are concerned about navigating the cost of training as they support themselves and their families. By reducing the financial risk of pursuing training, we’re helping open the door to more people who might not have historically been able to access a tech career.

What sort of employers are the best fit for your apprenticeships?

A: I mentioned this briefly, but today, every company is a tech company. And anyone who’s looking for tech talent at scale can benefit from this way of thinking about how to build an effective talent pipeline. 

We’ve found that our model works particularly well for organizations who have already started thinking about new approaches to hiring. If you’re committed to rethinking your approach to talent, and thinking about how you can build more diverse and inclusive talent pipelines, we’re excited to work with you and help you build out that strategy.  

Along with Interapt, we’ve already helped companies across industries (think Adobe, CVS, ServiceNow) build internal mobility and improve retention through on-the-job learning experiences. The common thread among those successful partnerships is that the employers are ready to make a bigger, systemic change—because they recognize that investing in apprenticeships will help them build a more resilient and more equitable workforce.

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