If there is there is one constant among business leaders, solving the conundrum of skilled labor ranks high on the list. Seemingly every industry or sector is looking for fresh talent, given that demand for skilled labor exceeds the supply—even the one I work within. Despite the rosy outlook of companies in Chicago that play within the technology, digital and creative sectors, finding the right and best talent is not as easy as one might think.
John Pletz wrote a very compelling editorial noting the dynamics of our region’s workforce. Not only do I wholeheartedly agree with his assessment, I would add in an extra argument—Chicago offers a huge potential base of future workers that are looking to get into the tech world. HQ2 could be the kick in the pants that this city needs to get more of them into it.
However, reaching this long-term pool of resources requires Chicago’s tech community to rethink how they find people—it’s not enough to look in the region’s colleges and universities.
The idea of an apprenticeship is one that combines on-the-job training with related instruction and real-world application so that students can learn theoretical aspects along with practical ones—and have a leg up on those students graduating from “traditional” education programs, i.e., two- and four-year colleges.
Municipal officials have been pushing apprenticeships as a means of finding skilled labor for such skilled trades as construction and manufacturing. Why can’t there be an apprenticeship program for the creative and digital community? Why can’t we find students in Chicago’s communities and neighborhoods that don’t have the means to attend a traditional college, but have a desire to learn skills that we offer?
According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), apprentices typically earn about half the going wage of a traditional entry-level employee, and pay is increased over the length of the apprenticeship period. What’s more, IDES highlights that many apprenticeships can take three to five years to complete—as opposed to a typical three- or six-month internship.
We have been finding students in Chicago’s neighborhoods and communities who want to learn how to code, how to create compelling interactive communications and how to drive a company’s digital strategy. We don’t look under rocks to find these students—they find us through valuable community and civic partnerships we have across Chicago. We call our students, residents, to pay homage to the value that our mentors provide students in much the same fashion as physicians teach the world of medicine.
The apprenticeship model might be how our parents and grandparents got their start, but it still works. An apprenticeship model affords my agency with a vehicle to curtail employee search costs and cultivate young talent—and in the process, let students interact with client problems right away as opposed to later in their careers.
Chicago wants to see HQ2 open its doors in Chicago. Opening more doors—and more minds—in Chicago’s neighborhoods can give this city an even greater spark; apprentice programs can help.
At its core, technology is supposed to help people advance their lives. Why shouldn’t technology education and career training achieve the same thing?