One way the Labor Department is bolstering the U.S. technology workforce

For details the Federal Drive with Tom Temin turned to CompTIA's Senior Vice President for Workforce Relations Amy Kardel.

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Under a grant from the Labor Department, the technology trade group known as CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association, has been working to establish technology apprenticeships. The general aim is to help fill workforce gaps in both government and industry. For details the Federal Drive with Tom Temin turned to CompTIA’s Senior Vice President for Workforce Relations Amy Kardel.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Ms. Kardel, good to have you on.

Amy Kardel: Good to be with you, Tom.

Tom Temin: Tell us what you’re doing here. IT workforce, is that beyond simply cybersecurity, because everybody’s chasing the cybersecurity workforce?

Amy Kardel: It sure is. So computer careers, obviously are quality jobs and as a trade association for the IT industry we’re really excited to have a contract with the U.S. Department of Labor with a partner, American Institutes of Research, to expand tech apprenticeships across the U.S.

Tom Temin: What is a tech apprenticeship versus an internship versus just an entry-level wire puller?

Amy Kardel: You’re so right to ask that question. An apprenticeship is an entry-level trainee job. It has three components: You have a mentor showing you how to do things, some things are best learned by doing including cyber and IT; you have a classroom instruction component; and you have a learn-by-doing work experience. So that three-legged stool makes it an apprenticeship. It’s a job, but it’s a trainee job. And this changes the mindset of tech employers from being people who buy talent, poach it from other employers, to people who train talent. And that’s really our big goal here is to make the pipeline bigger into entry-level tech jobs.

Tom Temin: Alright, so you’re CompTIA, you have member companies and they have needs, how does this all work functionally?

Amy Kardel: We address the needs of our members and have the certifications to go with that. The A+ certification, network certification, network+ and security+ are those training certifications that people work through to prove their competencies in these apprenticeships and in our industry. So our member companies are hungry to hire. We publish a report and it’s no secret that shows the gap of supply and demand in these key industries. And we’re trying to meet that gap with quality jobs that pay well and have upward mobility.

Tom Temin: Alright, and are the jobs, you mentioned cyber, I heard network, but is it also, can it be software design, systems design?

Amy Kardel: Each occupation has a specific apprenticeship. We’ve published four. We have IT support generalist, so that’s your help desk role and that is a stepping stone to other pathways. That’s really the entry-level pathway. From there, you could take into networking, that’s another pathway we have with an apprenticeship, or into cyber. And the other pathway we have is in technical project management. And that’s one where people I think, have the biggest door open to them. A lot of folks say, oh, I can do project management, but if I can do it in tech, that’s something I can build on.

Tom Temin: This grant to do this is from the Labor Department. What are they paying for exactly?

Amy Kardel: Yes, so what we’re being paid for is to go out and socialize this idea, stand up these national guidelines standards that are for these four occupations I just outlined -networking, cyber, IT support generalist and project management – and then bring those with consulting to the companies to set up these apprenticeships, because it’s a new idea for them. And to register an apprenticeship with Department of Labor is a piece of paperwork that AIR takes care of, our partner on this project.

Tom Temin: And is there any sense of the numbers in demand? I mean, you hear all kinds of crazy numbers for how many cybersecurity people are needed, a million, 2 million, I don’t know but for IT support networking and say tech project management, is there any quantification of the of the gap in the workforce?

Amy Kardel: Yes, we look at these numbers, specifically. Because we pull that data directly from Burning Glass Labor Insights, we can see that in 2020 there were 185,500 job postings for IT project manager. That’s the second-most in demand job behind the IT support generalist with 263,000 jobs opened in 2020. But overall, those are kind of relative numbers that are hard to get a handle on. But I would say the key finding is there are in 2021, projected to be 31% growth rate.

Tom Temin: Alright so a couple of 100-, 300-, 400,000 jobs might be at stake here, then?

Amy Kardel: Yes. When we say big numbers, it’s real. The net tech employment already in the U.S. is 12 million roughly for 2021. And we’re projecting 250,000 more jobs roughly coming into this year.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Amy Kardel, she’s senior vice president for workforce relations at CompTIA. What is the sell to companies that might have a need and you come at them with the possibility of an apprentice and they need someone that can hit the ground running right now. So how do you sell the apprenticeship idea to organizations that have those gaps?

Amy Kardel: Well, when the gap is so big, and the supply is so limited, we have to come up with new ways to meet it. Just standing up an apprenticeship isn’t going to find you an entirely new pipeline, but it is a new training tool. And especially as we look to do things with equity and find people to enter the workforce that haven’t had that opportunity before we can format a new build-your-own talent strategy that increases retention and has good ROI.

Tom Temin: Do we know the extent to which these jobs might be union jobs because that’s a big priority of the current administration. It’s not always the case but that’s what they’re looking at now. And are these, say, Communication Workers of America or IAM, or?

Amy Kardel: In our industry for these roles, there’s not a union role played. So that’s why we’re stepping in as a trade association. Because we go across companies and we reach into different sectors where we’re standing these up. You’ll see that these are jobs that could be in government. These are jobs that could be in the private sector. But traditionally, our industry is not unionized. And that’s where a trade association plays a bigger role, Tom.

Tom Temin: Alright, and yes, I was going to ask too, what about federal agencies? Can they avail themselves of this program and get some some apprentices in?

Amy Kardel: We’d love to see that. Last year I was part of a working group at the National Science Foundation, and we wrote a white paper just on that topic, because there’s a real dearth of apprenticeship programs in the federal space around cyber. So we’d love to see that happen too.

Tom Temin: Where do you get the raw material? Because people have to step up to want to be apprentices. And you can see where the technical trade schools have mostly disappeared, that used to do that. ITT Technical and so forth, went away, and kind of because of the Labor Department in many ways and the Education Department, but nevertheless, that’s the situation we have. So where do apprentices come from, in general?

Amy Kardel: They can come from community colleges. We have programs are partnering with community colleges to get that real workforce work-based learning early in their career. We also see partnerships with community-based organizations that are looking to do reskilling and upskilling programs. So many people have been displaced, of course, in the pandemic, that we have a lot of service workers that are considering what is a pandemic-proof job, and this is a very timely on-ramp to a tech career, that is pandemic proof, and leads to a quality job that can happen through this training investment of the employer into that worker. So we see a couple of different ways people can get there. And our real goal as part of the contract is to have more than 50% diversity in this. So nontraditional technologist getting into technology has been a goal of our association for a long time, we really want to unlock people’s potential and see more women and people of color in tech.

Tom Temin: And these jobs don’t necessarily require a college degree, really, I mean, they are trades. There’s a lot of technical information you have to have and things you can learn. But you don’t have to necessarily have read Chaucer to be able to do this.

Amy Kardel: Right. These are not jobs that require a four-year degree, we like to say you might get that later. And the employer might pay for it. But it doesn’t, it’s not a prerequisite for sure. And if you have one, maybe in Chaucer, maybe you need a job? So this is a great way to add some skills to pay the bills on top of that degree that maybe isn’t paying the bills.

Tom Temin: And you can write the poetry after paying the bills and still be a poet and a wire puller or a network designer, I suppose. I shouldn’t say wire puller, it’s much more than that. Or have you placed many, what is the duration of this program?

Amy Kardel: So we are in our second year, just start our second year of contract setting up a new program. And it’s national, as I said, so we have hot spots in cities, Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Northern and Southern California and in the D.C. area. And so we have over 600 commitments from employers to place apprentices. And we’re in the process of doing that with training through different entities and different companies. So during the pandemic, it’s certainly been harder to get those those job slots to open up. But we’re right on the verge of having a big onslaught of hires happen.

Tom Temin: And have you been tracking the apprentices that are hired to see that they get through the program and become just regular old IT employees?

Amy Kardel: That’s a deliverable Exactly. We have our second cohort in-class now. We have the first one in jobs and we have 83% diversity that we’re really proud of, and that first cohorts are going through in the Phoenix area. And I got to see them in person two weeks ago. And it was really nice to see that theoretical work that we’re doing, behind the scenes and all remote of course during the pandemic on the ground and see the smiling face in the classroom training.

Tom Temin: Amy Kardel is senior vice president for workforce relations at CompTIA. Thanks so much for joining me.

Amy Kardel: Tom, it’s my pleasure to be with you.

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