The Payoff of Hard Work and Apprenticeships

Sure, putting an apprenticeship program together requires a lot of work, but have I mentioned there are some incredible outcomes and a great return on that investment that goes beyond financial gains? If you haven’t read the first two articles of this three-part series on apprenticeships, you may want to read about the building blocks and challenges first! I started by digging into what it takes to build a plan for a program and then explored the challenges companies should plan for early.

But let’s get to the results of all this hard work already… because there are some good ones!

And the Results Are…..

Retention
Ryan Verner, a Software Developer and Director of Software Education at 8th Light, went through 8th Light’s apprenticeship program and told me that, “personally it was a powerful experience and set how [he] felt about 8th Light. It resulted in a stronger feeling of loyalty to this organization than to any other because there was an understanding of the investment they made in developing skills and a long-lasting career.”

While Detroit Labs originally developed their apprenticeship program to combat the challenges of location and compensation, their experiment yielded results exceeding expectations. Their question in test was: if they didn’t pay as high as companies like Microsoft, while also asking people to relocate to Detroit, could they bring people in and train them, and expect them to stay or would they get the skills and move on? What they found is that people not only stayed, they also immediately reinvested what they learned into the community, the company, and the culture of Detroit Labs. They didn’t put any requirements on people to stay for an allotted amount of time after the program, regardless of the competition and demand they were up against. Yet, their retention rate is around 80 percent, and when people did leave they found that it was mostly unrelated to Detroit Labs.

As Erika Languirand, Director of Training & Development at Detroit Labs put it, “culture is a product of the people that make up a team. These people were curious, passionate, interested, and said yes to challenges — those are hard things to find when paired with some level of experience. So we built it and they stayed.”  

Culture
Culture is such a hot topic for tech companies, as is retention, and what I’ve found is they typically go hand-in-hand. 8th Light recognized that an apprenticeship program served as “an extended interview. People talk about how hard it is to figure out who is the right fit on both sides through the interview process. The apprenticeship approach helps  people have the time to feel out the ‘fit’ which in turn means the people who stay, commit long term.”

Most companies say they want developers that are eager to learn and enjoy problem solving, but that takes a certain level of humility. As Joseph Purcell, Senior Developer and lead for Digital Bridge Solutions’ new apprenticeship program pointed out, “it’s true that people committing to an apprenticeship program are generally pretty driven. They desire a willingness to explore unknown territory, which demonstrates humility.”

“Everyone emphasizes humility in interviews, though people can talk about it, it’s not always the case in execution. Because of the apprenticeship period at 8th Light, it allows people to really demonstrate humility and a strong interest in learning — it shows the willingness and desire to learn and grow,” Ryan added.

Culture can be affected more than the demonstration of characteristics desired by a company. If looked at from the perspective of Adam Lupu, Learning Architect and Consultant to Andela, it impacts the documentation and best practices for more collaborative teams. He said, “unless the team is really good at documenting their code, it’s hard for people to follow up or rotate on projects. The mentorship and apprenticeship model forces teams to share knowledge and encourages better documentation, making for more scalable code contributed over time. You take people that are working too independently, give them this rewarding experience of working in collaboration and it actually results in scalability of the code base. It allows companies to take people in and out of those teams, while keeping the model consistent as the team grows.”

Continued Learning
There is a huge misconception that an apprenticeship is a program built just for junior candidates or is synonymous with internships. “The label ‘apprentice’ is not like an internship. It is not something you go through only once in your career. It’s an experience that could happen anytime in a career because it’s about learning, mentoring, and becoming acquainted with a team and code base through collaboration across experience differentials,” Adam said.

“8th Light is fighting against the idea that apprenticeships are only for junior developers or people early in their career. But it’s not just for juniors leveling up. 8th Light has developers with 5-10 years of experience doing shorter apprenticeships because there is always more to learn — more to learn about technologies as well as the company,” Ryan added.

There is bi-directional value that comes out of an apprenticeship program. Adam pointed out that in a lot of conversations about apprenticeship programs, there is little attention on the value that the mentor gets out of having a mentee. The mentor is impacted in a significant way. He said, “the most senior person on the team tends to be working in isolation, they kind of get sequestered in their own knowledge and expertise — they’re no longer challenged in the same way to learn and grow, except that they’re solving more complex problems. But there’s so much more to a continuation of learning that directly impacts individual value and in turn retention. When working with an apprentice, they learn to look at problems with new or novel ways to find solutions. There is something added when you pair a senior person with a mentee and it’s mutually impactful.”

The value apprenticeships provide a company, and the role these programs serve has a large impact on company success and team happiness. They help companies scale as their business scales and the technologies evolve, they help in closing the skill gap while retaining your most valuable asset — the people.

Every company does it a little differently, what programs are your teams putting in place to close the skill gap and scale your team to meet the needs of your growing business?

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