LEHI — The 6,000 currently unfilled tech jobs statewide reflects Utah employers' continuing struggle to find talent that matches their needs, whether they're part of the state's high-powered startup sector or a more traditional business trying to fill a tech-centric position.
On Wednesday, a group of local employers, job trainers and potential job seekers got their first glimpse of a new partnership that could help fill some of those needs perfectly, via a system that assesses, trains and places candidates in apprenticeships with companies in need of recruits with tech skills.
Silicon Slopes, with the support of Talent Ready Utah, is linking arms with Apprenti, a Seattle-based nonprofit that has built a system for finding, educating and placing job seekers in year-long apprenticeships that, according to the company, has had great success in leading to permanent placements.
Silicon Slopes Executive Director Clint Betts said the program fits well with the mission of the newly combined Silicon Slopes/Utah Technology Council, particularly as it matches well with people who may not have the time, resources or opportunity to improve skills through college or private education options, like coding camps.
"Apprenti is a really interesting model," Betts said. "The program will extend the access and opportunity in our community to the many and not just the few."
Betts cited an example of how Apprenti could open doors for some Utahns that currently have limited options to find better, or even sufficient, employment.
"If you’re a college age kid, whether you’re going to school or not ... and it's just you and no family, you can probably go to a 40 hour a week code school, no problem," Betts said. "If you’re a single mom with kids, that’s not going to be an option for you. But specialized training followed by an apprenticeship is a lot more doable."
Apprenti Director Jennifer Carlson said building employment diversity is one of the goals of the program and noted the average age of successful placements is around 33.
"We are targeting women and under-represented minorities," Carlson said.
Apprenti is run by the Washington Technology Industry Association Workforce Institute. The institute is a 501(c)(3) organization "created to address the workforce shortage in the tech industry and identify diverse talent to meet industry needs," according to the group's website. The program was selected for a $7.5 million U.S. Department of Labor grant in 2016 to expand its efforts nationwide. Apprenti has also earned a $245,000 grant from the Utah employment program Talent Ready Utah. The money, according to a Talent Ready Utah representative, is intended to help launch the program in Utah by offsetting startup costs and will also provide some subsidies to in-state companies that utilize the system to fill job openings.
While the exact costs to Utah employers has not been determined, Silicon Slopes Apprenti Program Director Ben Luks-Morgan told the Deseret News the per-position employer costs are ranging from $9,000-$12,000 in other areas. The program is free for job candidates, but the training segment is typically uncompensated.
Job seekers interested in the program must be at least 18 years old, eligible to work in the U.S. and high school graduates. The first step in the Apprenti process is to complete a 104-question aptitude test that assesses applicants' competence in math, logic and critical thinking and "soft skills." Top performing applicants will be asked to interview with hiring partners, and candidates that are accepted will be offered a full-time position paying at least $39,000 plus benefits prior to entering apprenticeship program. Apprentices then enroll in specialized training that can span from two to five months, depending on the position. Upon successful completion, a one-year, mentored apprenticeship begins.
While companies are under no obligation to offer permanent, full-time positions to apprentices, Luks-Morgan said the national rate of permanent placement for Apprenti participants has been around 80 percent. The training can range widely and include preparation for positions like software developer, quality assurance technician or cybersecurity analyst.
Luks-Morgan said the goal is to launch the first training cohort by mid-August and place 40 apprentices in the coming year, with plans to double that figure in each of the first few years of operation.
Betts said the program launch reflects a first, and very positive, benchmark for the merger of Silicon Slopes' outreach and education mission with the advocacy and industry focus of Utah Technology Council.
"I think this program and this launch proves that ... our power together is even stronger than we thought," Betts said.
To take the assessment or learn more about the Apprenti program in Utah, visit https://www.siliconslopesapprenti.com/.