Through the Lens of Partnership: The Value of Apprenticeship in our Region

By Sarah Sewell, MPA, SHRM-CP, Director, Workforce Planning & Upskill/Reskill Programs 

The question I get asked most from employers is, “Where can I find talent?” The question seems valid when you take stock of the 14,500 open tech positions currently unfilled in Wisconsin. Yet, glancing at the entire labor pool, a better question might be, “How can I create talent with skills customized to meet my business needs?” In response, I’d say: Look no further than tech apprenticeship.  

There is a reason the apprenticeship model has been adopted from industries like construction and engineering, and implemented in tech, healthcare, finance, manufacturing, and more. Employers aren’t just hungry to meet outsized labor needs; they are looking to fill job vacancies with talent who come with a diverse range of lived and work experiences, talent who were inspired to make a career shift, talent who demonstrate their willingness to learn as an apprentice. MKE Tech Hub Coalition works to match talent with employers in partnership with Apprenti, a nonprofit approved to administer registered tech apprenticeship in Wisconsin.  

Tech apprenticeship is an earn-while-you-learn model, helping participants avoid student debt and support themselves and their families while in the program. According to data from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD), the average annual tech occupation wage is $91,000 as compared with the average annual wage for all industries at $56,000, making our industry’s earning potential massive for most Wisconsinites. A role can often be executed remotely, and the increased flexibility remote positions provide is of value to many jobseekers. 

For companies, hiring apprentices can be more cost-effective than hiring experienced professionals, as pay for apprentices begins at more modest wages during their related training and instruction, and pay gradually increases with added skills and responsibilities over time. The data from DWD also shows apprentices stay with employers longer than regular hires. Since tech apprenticeships typically have a shorter timeframe compared to traditional degree programs, 18 months vs. two-to-four-year timeframe, companies can more efficiently build their talent pipeline in accordance with their needs.  Plus, apprenticeship is proven to be the best way to diversify the workforce, as fewer barriers to entry exist for participation. That means talent local to our area can simply be reskilled and prepared for careers in tech.  

These reasons were more than enough to convince Associated Bank, a Coalition member, to incorporate the tech apprenticeship model into its overall talent strategy. This past month, Associated Bank graduated their first two tech apprentices in software development and seized the opportunity to hire several tech apprentices in 2022. In conversation with Cynthia Sternard, Director of Technology Advancement & Outreach at Associated Bank, I learned more about what motivated Associated Bank to hop on the apprenticeship train.  

“Over the last three years, the challenges we’ve had were based on trying to find skilled technology talent within our core footprint in the Midwest,” Sternard said. “We’re competing for that same talent pool that everyone else is competing for. Coupled with rising salaries, and differing work arrangements that allow remote work, I think the challenges are endless out there. Apprenticeship, and non-traditional talent pipelines have been key to filling the demand.”  

When it comes to the internal reception of the apprentices, Sternard shared, “The apprentices come with their own personal journey that brought them to Associated Bank and to technology. Those experiences, you know, are transferable skills while not always being tech related,” Sternard said. “It has been phenomenal for our outcomes and our results in the work that we’re having them engaged in. Those, I think, have been some of the biggest benefits of apprenticeship. We have teams that are saying, ‘How can I bring an apprentice on to our team? and how can we get involved?’ So that that’s been huge. I think their stories as well are impactful.” 

In its effort to expand talent sourcing, Associated Bank found apprenticeship to be one great method of helping to build a workforce that reflects the diversity of the communities they serve here in Southeast Wisconsin. The company is one of nearly a dozen that have embraced the model, and it is the Coalition’s goal to see that number continue to grow. 

As of now, the Coalition has funding to offset employer investments in tech apprenticeship via covering up to half of related training and instruction costs for Cybersecurity and IT Support Professional.
Wisconsin may have been the first state to ever have registered apprenticeship, and it’s our time to leverage historic federal workforce investments to lead the way again. Bring tech apprenticeship to your company for a winning workforce solution to establishing a diverse talent pipeline. To learn more and get connected with our partners at Apprenti, please contact me via email.