Arizona IT Apprenticeship Program Troubleshooting Employer Participation

December 16, 2020


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This blog originally appeared on the Arizona Department of Economic Security website

During Arizona Apprenticeship Week, the state celebrated and recognized approximately 240 apprenticeship programs registered through the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES). Registered apprenticeships offer an alternative to four-year degrees, allowing participants to earn a competitive wage while learning a trade.

Of the 240 programs, four are in the Information Technology (IT) sector, a non-traditional program among apprenticeships predominantly in construction and trades like plumbing and electrical work. Among the unique programs is Tempe-based Tech One IT(link is external), which is non-traditional in its own right.

Paul Cozza is the executive vice president at Tech One IT, and also leads the company’s apprenticeship program, or the “juniors,” as he calls them.

“We bring junior technologists right out of school, whether it be university or community college, or we bring them out of immersive programming bootcamps,” Paul said. “We then provide them with training called Market Driven Technologies — the tools they might not have been exposed to in school, but what businesses are requiring today.

“We then start working with our clients, or employer-partners and put apprentices onto clients’ projects.”

Tech One IT contracts with other companies to complete their IT projects and brings on apprentices as needed. Once the job is finished, the client company has the option to bring on the Tech One IT apprentice to work for them. If the company doesn’t choose to hire the apprentice, the “junior technologist” will continue work on other projects with Tech One IT.

Tech One IT works with DES so the apprentice can officially become certified after the curriculum is fulfilled, which happens after a certain amount of hours of on-the-job experience is completed. While the apprentice works on a project for the client, they are guided by a tech lead and project coordinator, so if there are any questions or concerns that arise, they can be addressed quickly. It’s an opportunity for individuals in this competitive field to gain experience, credentials and a competitive wage all at the same time. Apprentices don’t have to have a degree in IT to begin, but in this non-traditional, competitive field, it helps.

Some companies aren’t able to host an apprenticeship or bring on younger IT specialists because they may lack the resources to do it, so Paul’s program is a solution for some of those companies.

“Some large clients told me that they need juniors, but they don’t have the bandwidth to focus on career development. That’s the gap I’m trying to fill,” Paul said. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, and we’re not going to complete all that work by relying on mid-level or senior-level resources. We need to figure out a way to bring juniors into the mix to build up the foundational level of an organization, and an apprenticeship is an ideal way to do that.”

Like many other businesses, Tech One IT has felt the impact left in the wake of the pandemic. Before COVID-19 hit the state, Paul said they were ready to launch seven different projects with about 30 apprentices. Now, however, there are currently five apprentices, as some employers and clients are hesitant to start projects in a strictly virtual environment.

Tech One IT has made the adjustments to adapt. Paul brought in an expert with a PhD in Organizational Change and Leadership to help implement new work plans. Paul is also facilitating apprentices with project coordinators and tech leads to develop any areas of weakness among the apprentices’ skillset.

“The challenge is not finding the apprentices. The challenge is finding the work for the apprentices,” Paul said.

Willie Higgins is Arizona’s apprenticeship program coordinator, and worked with Paul to create Tech One IT’s registered apprenticeship program. Willie, in jest, gives himself credit as holding the world record for the fastest time signing an employer up for an apprenticeship at 26 minutes.

In truth, it may take a little longer than 26 minutes to sign up, but it is free, simple and easy for an Arizona business to create a registered apprenticeship program. All it takes is for a business to identify an apprenticeship opportunity within their company and agree to the terms of the DES apprenticeship guidelines. Willie and his team at DES are able to work closely with employers and tailor a plan to suit the employer’s specific needs.

Despite the virtual environment within which Tech One IT and many of the non-traditional apprenticeships now have to work, Willie doesn’t doubt apprentices and organizations still have much to gain from participating in an apprenticeship program.

“We had to stretch our minds to think like that, and Paul helped us. We see the benefit of it, and it makes great jobs and careers for [young individuals],” Willie said.

Paul said there is no shortage of work to do in the IT field, but there is a shortage of employers willing to take on apprentices, or “juniors.” Apprentices are regular employees that are just earning credentials while they work. It is a proven way to transform untapped talent into valuable commodities for a company.

The DES Apprenticeship team is looking for more employers to host apprenticeships. Learn more about how your business can participate at the Apprenticeship Office website.

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