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Workforce of the Future

Some firms turn to internship and apprenticeship programs to develop the tech talent they need.

Some firms turn to internship and apprenticeship programs to develop the tech talent they need.

Roxanne Pollard, a graduate of the Renishaw apprenticeship program, now works for the company as a mechanical design engineer. Image courtesy of Renishaw.

To start 2019, staffing firm Modis, tech education provider General Assembly and PR firm Allison+Partners published the results of a survey they had jointly conducted. Compiled from the responses of executives and senior managers, the Technology and Engineering Decision Maker Survey offers some insights into the mood, trends and hiring practices in the engineering and technology sectors.

A majority of the decision-makers (67%) say they plan to increase their company headcounts in 2019, suggesting opportunities for new graduates and those looking for jobs. But this number is down from the 79% who responded in the same fashion in 2018. However, if you’re employed, you may be glad to hear that 72% of the bosses are planning to give out bonuses this year.

In recruitment, 33% of the executives in the survey believe “finding talent with appropriate technical skills” is becoming “somewhat more difficult,” and 8% believe it’s becoming “much more difficult.” They also indicate only 57% of the applicants they encountered last year possessed the technical skills required for the jobs they want. Furthermore, 31% strongly agree and 49% somewhat agree that “there’s a gap between the available talent and the type of skilled talent” they seek.

“A tight labor market coupled with the scarce availability of skilled tech workers means that employers must take a strategic approach to fostering successful and efficient hiring pipelines. To that end, General Assembly is engaging with dozens of companies to support massive upskilling and reskilling initiatives to augment the skills of current workers,” explains Jake Schwartz, co-founder and chief executive officer of the company.

For staffing firms like Modis and training providers like General Assembly, the survey results indicate talent market needs to fill. Some global tech firms like Renishaw, on the other hand, are actively developing the talents they need with an apprenticeship program. Last December, announcing the 40-year anniversary of the program, Renishaw said it plans to fill 68 positions with graduate apprentices, for various vacant posts in engineering, software, embedded electronic design and development, and IT.

The Renishaw Apprenticeship

Roxanne Pollard was a Renishaw apprentice. She now works as a mechanical design engineer for the company. While working at Renishaw four days a week, Roxanne went on to achieve a first-class honors Mechanical Engineering degree at the University of South Wales and the TATA prize, given to the highest achieving part-time student at the university.

“An apprenticeship is a great way to get started, to work straight away and gain hands-on experience. At Renishaw, we were given a lot of responsibility straight away and worked on projects across the company, meaning that we could develop a wider variety of skills,” recalls Pollard.

The path to apprenticeship usually begins with an evening at Renishaw’s Gloucestershire headquarters. Attending students and their parents get to hear personal experiences from the current apprentices and graduates now employed at the company.

Entering the A-Level apprenticeship program, Pollard impressed her future employer with her design project, an innovative bicycle safety helmet. The design won her first place in the Manufacturing Technologies Association’s TDI (Technology, Design and Innovation) Challenge. At the Young Engineer for Britain National Final in 2011, she was chosen to represent the UK at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) held in Los Angeles, CA.

“Working on Renishaw projects from the beginning of my apprenticeship gave me the opportunity to apply what I had learned during my A-Levels a lot more quickly,” says Pollard. “Working to group deadlines pushed me to understand theoretical information so that I could help the project be a success. This hands-on experience also helped me when I went on to study for a degree as I had a deeper understanding of the academic content in my lectures.”

The Techtonic Software Apprenticeship

For Techtonic, a custom software development shop, success comes with its own challenges. It usually begins with a project to assemble a team and help finish a client’s work on demand. But these teams become so well-integrated with the client’s own teams that the client might want to hire them. It means Techtonic constantly needs to replenish its own talent pool. For this reason, its business model now includes talent acquisition as a part of its custom software development offering.

It was a chance meeting with an aspiring coder that sparked an idea, says Heather Terenzio, CEO and founder of Techtonic. At an event, after her talk on careers in technology in Boulder, CO, a young caterer approached her and said, “I love coding. I’ve been teaching myself how to code. If you hire me, I promise you won’t regret it,” as Terenzio recalls.

After that, Terenzio and her team came up with the idea to recruit promising junior developers domestically and train them to reach a higher skill level. That was the genesis of the Techtonic Apprenticeship program. There’s a rigorous vetting process, involving an application, online and in-person skill assessment tests, and phone interviews.

Completing the program gives you 39 college credits. During the roughly 1,000-hour-long apprenticeship, participants are paid.

Austin Moses, an apprenticeship program participant in the summer of 2017, now works at Techtonic as a software development team lead, overseeing a number of apprentices and junior developers. Having gone through the process himself, he has a much better understanding of time management, project timelines and meeting client objectives.

Software-Specific Skills

As one of the largest Autodesk resellers, IMAGINiT Technologies, a division of Rand Worldwide, also provides intensive software training and education. For some Autodesk-centric design and engineering firms, IMAGINiT is the training partner to evaluate and/or improve the skills of new hires, frequently as part of their onboarding process.

“With some of our partner companies, when an employee is hired, one of his or her first tasks is to come to our training center for an in-person class, or to join an online instructor-led class,” says Kevin Kuker, vice president of Training and Support Services, IMAGINiT Technologies. “The biggest challenge I’ve heard from our clients is that, in school settings, most new graduates didn’t get enough training on using specific software programs and they struggle to apply their software knowledge in a real-world application.”

Many engineering firms use certain software packages as the company standard for CAD modeling, simulation and testing. The proficiency and skill level desired by a potential employer may be quite different from the theoretical understanding and the basics covered in school settings.

This leaves hiring managers with two choices: Only hire candidates who already possess the required skills; or hire promising candidates and invest the time and efforts necessary to develop and nurture them on the job. For those who choose the latter, internships and apprenticeships can be an integral to the strategy.

Internships and apprenticeships are a two-way street. It’s useful not only for the company to observe the capacity of a candidate, but also for the candidate to gain insights into the company’s culture and work ethics before committing to a career.

“Work-based learning experiences are an excellent way for candidates to better understand the world of work before jumping into a long-term career in tech,” says Lane Greever, senior vice president of Modis. “On-the-job and project-based programs provide hands-on training that is more in line with what someone would experience in a permanent position at a company.”

The joint survey Modis published with General Assembly shows 70% of technology decision makers are planning to increase head count this year. “With only a shallow pool of available tech talent, more employers are considering candidates based on their potential to learn. Education and job history are still important factors in hiring decisions, but companies are realizing they must help create the talent they need,” Greever points out.

More Info

General Assembly

IMAGINiT

Modis

Renishaw

Techtonic

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Kenneth Wong

Kenneth Wong is Digital Engineering’s resident blogger and senior editor. Email him at [email protected] or share your thoughts on this article at digitaleng.news/facebook.

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