Jennifer Carlson serves as Co-Founder and Executive Director of Apprenti. Apprenti is a non-profit organization that creates alternative pathways to access tech talent, and helps organizations address digital skills shortages, while providing economic mobility to underrepresented groups by identifying, training, and placing diverse talent in tech careers. Additionally, Jennifer serves on the Tech Councils of North America (TECNA) workforce board and as an Adjunct Professor in Graduate Studies at Seattle University.
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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian, and I’m so honored to have you with us today, Jennifer Carlson. She’s the co-founder and Executive Director of Apprenti. Welcome, Jennifer to the Impact Podcast.
Jennifer Carlson: Thank you so much, John. I appreciate you having me here.
John: Hey, we’re going to be talking about, Jennifer, all the important and great things you’re doing at Apprenti as the co-founder and as the Executive Director. But before we get into that, it’s always more fun to learn about Jennifer Carlson first and your background in bio, and how you even get here. What were some of your journeys? Where were you born and where’d you grow up?
Jennifer: I’ll use a Beatles tune. It’s a long and winding road.
John: I like that though. That’s a good reference. For someone relatively pretty young, I don’t know how long in winding is, but let’s hear it.
Jennifer: I’m from Denver, Colorado originally. But I grew up in the radio. My dad was a radio guy, which is a lot like being in the military. You move a lot.
Jennifer: My dad did play-by-play for the Kansas City Royals.
Jennifer: The Chiefs, the 3rd man on the Reds. We made a lot of bounces around between Kansas City and Cincinnati back to Colorado. I’m a Midwestern girl with a lot of homes.
Jennifer: I went into sports, to begin with. I did my undergrad and PR at Colorado State and my master’s in Business Administration for sports at Ohio University and thought I was going to follow in the family’s footsteps, did it for a while, represented athletes, worked in the NBA and Major League Baseball, but came from a history of also working in Corporate America with progressive Insurance, doing marketing and sports marketing. Then AIG after that, launched a marketing initiative around one of their insurance products nationally. Growing large P&Ls is my background, and almost every job I’ve ever had has been me crafting and creating the job. This is a natural but weird offshoot of all of that in that, I’ve been around a lot of technology projects and have been the executive sponsor of some in the insurance industry. There was a lot less diversity than there should have been, and a lot of hiring practice issues, just not able to hire enough people. All of that informed me where I am now.
John: That’s interesting. To me, sometimes long and winding roads don’t have to be typically long, but they have to be interesting. As you say, you moved around a lot. Your dad had a fascinating career that influenced you tremendously. But then what you get to do is because you did have different roles at different organizations that you self-created, you also get to see where the white spaces are and the voids are. Then taking your expertise from both classic education and life. You get to fill those voids if you’re so inclined. If you have the guts to be an entrepreneur, and obviously you do co-found Apprenti. What year did you co-found Apprenti?
John: 2015. How many co-founders were working with you approximately? Two. Wow.
Jennifer: Me, plus one, I’m the founder and he’s the funder.
John: Hey, listen, that works. Right? A lot of great ideas don’t ever get off the kitchen table without the right amount of dough so that’s tremendous. For our listeners and viewers who are online or near their tech devices now that want to look up Jennifer and Apprenti, you can go to apprenticareers.org. When you founded this co-founded Apprenti in 2015, what was your general vision and mission then?
Jennifer: Interestingly enough, I wrote the business plan for this as a way to create a new pipeline of talent. Hard stop apprenticeship wasn’t a word I used in the business plan.
Jennifer: It was about taking people from our own backyard and re-skilling them to fill the tech talent gap that we have not just here in Washington but nationally. That was the thesis behind us, is that not everybody needs to have a college degree, and not every occupation or role we fill in tech is a college requirement. Yet, we’ve artificially put that on everything. I had sat down with a number of companies here in Washington that sit on the board of the trade association for tech and talked through what would it need to look like for us to adopt and re-skill people. Your Microsoft, Amazon, Zillow, Tableau, these big companies were F5, were all at the table. We talked through what this would look like, wrote this business plan, and it was just super serendipitous that it was at the same time that the Obama administration started funding money into apprenticeships for non-traditional sectors, which tech would be one.
Jennifer: The business plan went to the state of Washington’s labor office, which is where the funds flow through. They took a look at it and were like, “Yeah, you’re just missing one word. This is perfect. This is an apprenticeship. Everything that you’ve drafted and how you re-skill people is exactly what an Apprenticeship is.” It’s a training model of classroom and on-the-job skills. Add one word and let’s go after that money and see if we can fund a pilot here in Washington so that’s what we did.
John: Did it go to plan?
Jennifer: It did. We were able to secure a fund through the US Department of Labor that ran through the state of Washington to fund the first 600 Apprentices over 5 years, which we did here in Washington. Then something I would never, ever advise is expanding at the exact same time. The US Department of Labor put out contracts for 6 sectors independently one year into that grant. We competed because it was one contract per sector wasn’t think we would have a shot at it, and we won it to take what we were doing here because all of these employers are national employers.
Jennifer: They [crosstalk] the system to run identically everywhere.
Jennifer: They informed the process and said, “We’ll adopt it everywhere.” The DOL said, “Great, then we’ll fund it.” So that meant having to do a tandem rollout of Washington State’s pilot at the same time we were starting to expand nationally. Don’t do that.
John: That’s a classic entrepreneurial move though, because sometimes our eyes become a little bit bigger than our tummies are, and it’s just the way it goes. What I always love to learn and our listeners love to understand, is how much of what you put down on that original business plan turned out to be the roadmap to where you started going, and what started getting you the traction and the success that you’ve massively become now? How much did you iterate as you went along?
Jennifer: That’s a great question. I don’t think I’ve ever really broken down. If I had to, I would say the core concepts are still true and we still operate.
John: Got it. Got it. I was reading about you and reading about Apprenti, the terminology for nationally registered Apprenticeships in technology, what does that mean? How does that align with what you’re doing and what people should be thinking about?
Jennifer: Registered apprenticeship is a credentialed occupation. When you become a registered apprentice, when you graduate from whatever your role is, whether it’s an electrician or it’s a software developer, you leave with a certified credential from the US Department of Labor. The competencies or the role skills that you leave with were drafted and vetted by that industry. The industry has said, “If you’ve left with a software developer in Java, you’re capable of this set of skills that have been formalized and registered with the government that we know, you know how to do that. It’s national and we work with the US Department of Labor, but as you can imagine, the United States has made up of 50 other states and so there are 28 systems of apprenticeship in the US. Oh, 27 states are independent and then you’ve got the US Department of Labor that overlays everything.
Jennifer: It’s a little bit convoluted in a process which is part of the reason why we exist, because companies say, I needed to figure, I needed to work one way. I don’t want to have to figure out 27 systems.
John: Let’s take the viewers and listeners through the soup to nuts. How does it work? Someone wants to seize your website, apprenticareers.org, and wants to get involved, wants to go to the next level in their career. How do they apply? How does it work and what’s our best outcome possible?
Jennifer: 18 and over, anybody 18 and over, I’ve placed somebody as young as 18 and as old as 65 into the apprenticeship.
Jennifer: The median age in my program is 32. It’s a lot of people who have 10 to 12 years of work experience under their belt, and a lot of them looking to re-skill and move into a different role. The advantage to this is you don’t have to have a tech background.
Jennifer: You can come to me, I’m not going to ask you for educational attainment, and I’m not going to ask you about your prior work experience. I don’t want to know. You don’t have to have a college degree, you don’t have to have tech experience. You come into Apprenti careers and there’s a baseline assessment that you’ll take, and it’s focused on core math, basic math, and algebra with some geometry and logic and critical thinking. Are you a good problem solver? There are some interpersonal skills behavioral questions on there, and that’s it. If you score over 80, you are in my candidate pool.
Jennifer: But at this point, it’s been completely objective and hands-off. Now, I’m working with picking a company that comes to me and Coles says, I want this, or American Family Insurance comes to me and says, I want this. They’re going to fill five of these roles. Cyber software developer, data analyst and then we will go to the pool, the candidate pool, and pull out names from that particular market and start screening you. What we’re doing on the first round interview is screening what skills you’re bringing to the table. My favorite example is a Burger King manager who came to us. If he is applying to Amazon where he applied, of course, you’re not going to get past the front door. Right. Because they’re going to say, “I don’t understand even why you’re applying.” Right?
Jennifer: What they’re coming to me with are skillsets that I’m distilling and sending back to the company and saying, “This person does supply chain management, payroll, and scheduling.” All of those things without the context of under what company they did it for are highly transferrable skills.
Jennifer: The company looks at that very differently once it’s been stripped down. Then the company goes, “Great.” I’m going to sponsor this person into apprenticeship and they interview them on a soft skills basis. They’re not meeting a technical bar, are they getting through behavioral questions? How do you problem-solve things if you were put in this situation?
Jennifer: Then they get sponsored into the apprenticeship. There is no cost to the candidate for the classroom. We’re able to braid funding from the state, federal government, and private philanthropic dollars to cover the classroom costs. You’ll go into an immersive four to five-month training window, 40 hours a week that’ll get you technically up to a bar and then you already have your job offer who you’re working for your start date and everything, and the only thing stopping you from getting there is that classroom window and potentially a background check if a company requires it. That doesn’t take you out of my candidate pool, it might just take you out of their candidate pool and I can potentially move you somewhere else. Then you go to a job for a full year as a paid employee to earn and learn, and you are placed with a mentor in that company who is helping you get up to speed on the job and getting you to a point that you can be retained in the role at the end of your apprenticeship.
John: Amazing. How do you gauge success? Now, we know the whole life cycle. What’s your success rate and how does that look? What does success mean to you as the co-founder and leader of this great company?
Jennifer: Two words, retention, and diversity. For what we place through, over 90% of our placements come from underrepresented groups. We’re focused on underrepresented minorities in tech, so BIPOC, Latino, Latina, Native American Pacific Islander, and people who have identified themselves as mixed race. Those are my core.
Jennifer: Women, veterans, and persons with disabilities. 90% of my placements fit into that group.
John: Amazing, that we live in these modern times, 63 million or 62 million if my numbers are close to right. 62 million Americans are disabled in one way or another and just like veterans, we just marginalized them and we try to leave them. They’re almost an unseen population historically. It’s just a shock.
Jennifer: Yeah. 52% of my placements are vets.
Jennifer: Largely freshly separated. But similarly, my number two occupation is Uber driver.
Jennifer: Yeah, people who came out into a service industry and don’t see a path anywhere else other than potentially going back to school and starting over.
Jennifer: This is not in the cards for most people.
John: Unbelievable. You’re focusing on diversity and retention. Your pool of folks is typically the marginalized and underrepresented people of the United States, number one.
John: Number two. Let’s go back to retention. I know you mentioned that, what is typically your retention rate success?
Jennifer: 88.5% stay with their employer of record.
John: This is amazing. Are you constantly now, that you’re 8 years into this, has the flywheel kicked in, are you now on a regular basis having applications flow in every day on the front end? Also, have new corporations signed up for your program on the back end?
Jennifer: All of the above is yes. But there’s an ebb and flow to the corporate side of that, as you know.
Jennifer: Let’s talk about whether is it a recession. Is it the right sizing for a tech occupation? Big tech companies are going through their attrition cycle right now. The good news is that non-tech companies are hiring still like crazy, so financial services, healthcare, and insurance retail. I am still placing a lot of people into apprenticeships with those other industries. The challenge is they don’t take the numbers that the tech sector takes because that’s all they live on. This year will probably be a lower number than last year which puts a dip in our growth cycle. But I also have a belief that that’s going to pop back up come 2024 when we see more tech companies online.
John: You mentioned at the top of the show, Jennifer, that you started off obviously Washington, soon there went national. Do other states come to you separately now and ask you to want to outsource their program to you and have you leverage your expertise and your technology to help run their programs as well?
Jennifer: Absolutely. We’re in 27 states operating, and we’ve placed somebody from all 50 states.
Jennifer: The great news is, yes, we can do that. What I typically do is it’s less about partnering. I mean, yes, we have partnerships with states and government offices, but it’s more about chambers of commerce and trade associations because they have the company relationships already ready-made. Tech packed in Philadelphia says, “We want to do this because our members need it.” Because Philadelphia is not a huge tech city, but they are a healthcare life sciences bio-industry and financial services. There are all those other companies they’re trying to hire for tech. They’ve got us coming in to partner with them on the delivery of apprentices to those industries.
John: That’s wonderful. Is one of your greatest sources of on the front end happily retained apprentices now becoming full-time employees and they’re telling their friends and relatives to sign up for this and get on board?
Jennifer: Great word of mouth among existing apprentices sending friends and family. The best one was, I did a graduation just last November at Amazon. A gentleman walked up to me and he said, “You don’t know me.” I was like, “No, I don’t.” He goes, “I’m here because of you.” He handed me his business card and on his business card, it’s in my wallet was, “I’m here because of Apprenti with a giant heart.” He was like, “I am 65 years old and I’m keeping up with these kids and my life turned around because I was able to finally get into a real career. I am loving every minute of this working in tech.” I was like, “This is fantastic.” Big hugs and keeping the card in my wallet is my reminder.
John: Right. That’s awesome.
Jennifer: Love those stories.
John: Now, our listeners and viewers are just joining us. We’ve got Jennifer Carlson with us today. She’s the co-founder and executive director of Apprenti. If you want to find Apprenti, or if you want to sign up for an Apprentice program or have a company that wants to get started and set one up, go to www.apprenticareers.org. Talk about a company now listening to this or watching this and wanting to get involved. How do we make this actionable so you get more companies bringing on these great apprentices?
Jennifer: Absolutely. Well, aside from reaching out to us directly, the first thing I’m going to do is I’m going to ask your company we’re going to go through some Q and A about, are you ready for an Apprenti. It is different than what we’re used to in our sector, which is poaching. Right? We just keep robbing Peter to pay Paul and moving people around the chess board and not actually creating anything that new, skilling up talent is a different approach, and making that investment it’s the old adage. When was the best time to plant a tree 20 years ago? When’s the next best time, today?
Jennifer: If you’re struggling to fill a role for longer than three months and if you are paying for these middle-skill software data cyber and cloud roles, the same finder’s fees that you do to a retail recruiter, then an apprenticeship is a great way to go. It’ll be less expensive and you’ll have net new talent, and the same amount of time that you would’ve if that job sat vacant for three or more months.
John: Right. I love the term skilling up. Talk about that. Why is your program so great for job seekers seeking to skill up and if they don’t have a college traditional, what has historically been in the United States, a traditional college degree, why is the skilling up process made with less friction using your great platform?
Jennifer: Well, I think it’s a combination of factors, a combo of things. Companies are finally being more pragmatic and accepting that not all roles are created equal and that we’ve put that artificial college degree requirement on everything where maybe it didn’t need to be. We as technology platform developers own the product and therefore the certifications on how to work on the product. This skilling-up model means that we can train you on the platform in a much faster pace than putting somebody through the traditional college ranks. It’s less expensive and you can take people with high aptitude, skill them through a certification or a language track and get them into the job faster with some hands-on experience. If you look at Europe and Asia, you got in Europe, 70% of people don’t go through a university track. They go through an apprenticeship, and they have apprenticeships for every single sector that’s out there. We are behind the times and in this country, 65% of America never finished college. That doesn’t mean they don’t have the capacity to do this work. It means that their learning modality didn’t work for college, or they simply didn’t want to take the debt, so this is a way to get around that and still make use of, and create a whole new tranche of people in this country that could be doing this work domestically.
John: What the news, when you read about two of the hottest sectors in tech, Jennifer, AI, and cybersecurity, A are those industries that are now leveraging your great platform for apprentices?
Jennifer: Cyber. Yes. AI coming.
Jennifer: AI is still embryonic in its development as it is.
Jennifer: The people who are in it are like high-end mathematicians at this point still.
John: But that day’s coming.
Jennifer: That day is coming. That’s right.
John: Let’s then go back to cyber then. Every time I read about the cyber industry, there seems to be a massive shortage of cyber professionals out there. Is filling those gaps, has that been part of your growth model?
Jennifer: Absolutely. It has also been a growth cycle in cyber. It went from four or five years ago being, we need people who are at a much higher echelon to do this work, to now let’s create cyber analysts and teach them software development with it, and then have them grow into the role. Whereas previously it was still a poaching environment where we were taking people who had half the skill already and just coaching them on the cyber portion of it. By doing that, it’s left open vacancies. We can now fill a backfilling environment, but it doesn’t change the fact that there needed to be a shift in the mentality of how we hire and at what level. Again, not all jobs have to start at this level. If we start here, we can create an organic growth model to that to get people to the level we need them to be at. That’s going to enable us to have a secondary tranche and not just a single that comes through academia.
John: When you wrote the business plan in 2015, were there other organizations that you were excited about or were that were doing this and not doing it so well and who’s your competitive landscape look like today?
Jennifer: There were some that were trying it, some companies that were doing it internally for themselves.
Jennifer: But that doesn’t scale from an adoptive standpoint.
John: That’s right.
Jennifer: Even a few of those very large companies doing it in a single market now, trying to figure out five years in, how do they replicate that in three other major markets for themselves? Looking at how much it costs them to build it in one location and now having to triple or quadruple that and their business is balking at that investment. We didn’t come into this with a belief that we would build apprenticeship for all per se. What we ended up doing was becoming an intermediary to close the gaps in the system where companies had pain. Companies on that coal initial tranche that we met with to craft what apprenticeship was going to look like, said, “We’re not good at attracting diverse talent and assessing skillsets that don’t come from a resume.” We said, “Great.” Now, we know we’re going to have to build the talent pipeline. I met with and created a council of folks from diverse populations to talk about what are your barriers to entry. How is it that it’s difficult for you to get recognition coming in? It was difficult on mapping skill sets to the job if they didn’t have a degree. I was like, “Okay, companies, I need you to come this way and I need you to understand on the other side that there’s still a math and a logic component that has to be there. This can’t be for everybody, but that doesn’t mean everybody can’t eventually get skilled to that level,” but they’re going to have to meet a bar to get in. Right? Both sides had to meet in the middle. There was a lot of mapping going on across the country for local market initiatives and company initiatives to who was doing what pieces of this puzzle well, and how we pull in some of those best practices as we map out how to roll this out on a scaled level nationally. Yes, that early stage was definitely there and there were some orgs that were doing it really well. Just very localized on a footprint. Now, you’ve got versions of what we do as an intermediary. We’ve closed the talent gap and the business operations gap and the payroll and benefits gap and all these business services we’ve had to build on behalf of companies. You now got a version of us out there like an Appian, that they are the employer of record who sends them out to the companies where the companies have difficulty hiring. You’ve got us that can do it either way or can even help a company set up its own program internally. You’ve got some for-profits out there that are doing the training in-house as well as the placement. Whereas we outsource the training to third parties in order to be able to lather, rinse, repeat, and move things around if anything changes quickly. There are a few versions of us out there now based on what he’s looking for.
John: You mentioned that great story of a gentleman writing you the note and you carrying that card in your wallet. Ageism. I’m 60 now. Is ageism still a growing trend in America?
Jennifer: I think on a personal level, technology there’s probably a little bit of that if for no other reason. There are a lot of people that are struggling to keep up with the world, particularly as we see more and more move towards AI, self-driving vehicles, that’s scary to a lot of people.
John: It is.
Jennifer: There’s probably a growing trend towards that. I will also say for a long time, our youngest end of the spectrum, because they still haven’t figured out A, what they want to do.
Jennifer: B, may not have, I don’t mean this in a negative way, but the business maturity. Yeah.
Jennifer: That younger group is sometimes a little more challenging for the company. The business acumen can be trained and the intellectual is there, it’s just an application. Is it being applied and managed correctly? That can be more challenging, so the median age being 32, most companies are actually excited about the fact that they’re getting people who know how to show up to work are adept at coming to an office, and have a certain amount of business acumen coming in the door and that’s been really well received.
John: The issue of diversity in the tech workforce that holds a special place in your heart in terms of your mission. Obviously, you’re creating already a huge win, as you said, to have net positive employees coming into the tech workforce itself, is itself net a tremendous win as a mission, as a business model, et cetera. But what you’ve also laid on top of that is, like you said, marginalized and underrepresented are also now taking huge advantage of your platform. How important is that to you, and how far do we have to go yet in this country in terms of diversity in not only the tech workforce but the workforce itself?
Jennifer: Well, it is very important to me that, for me, I don’t know, I can’t even get into how seriously important it’s to me, but it’s the world in the office place needs to look like the world we see when we walk down the street. More importantly, when I think of tech, the easiest way I can put it is the products that we consume on a daily basis need to be informed by and built by the same people that are consuming them, which are far more diverse than the people who are currently doing that.
John: That’s true. That’s fascinating.
Jennifer: I’ll add only one thing. The most important place for it to be is AI. The most important.
John: Explain it.
Jennifer: Because if we have only one group of people building the AI that is going to drive how decisions get made, and content gets written then it’s only coming through the lens of one group of people.
Jennifer: It will by default alienate everybody else.
John: That’s right.
Jennifer: It has to have representation from every walk of life in it in order for it to truly function and work for everyone.
John: As AI becomes more ubiquitous as an industry and as a business, you then hope to be filling the roles in tech at those AI startups and growth companies.
John: That’s brilliant. By the way, that makes a whole lot of sense. As an entrepreneur, a couple of different things that I would love you to consider managing and making, managing is managing the business that you’ve built and is already a huge success, but making the further creation of growing your business and making it even bigger and better, whatever that means to you and your co-founder. How does your day break down today in terms of managing and making?
Jennifer: More managing than making, but I needed to rehearse.
Jennifer: We run this as a nonprofit for a reason. I founded it as a nonprofit for a reason, and it was in order to A, get access to state and federal stimulus on behalf of companies that they wouldn’t be able to get on their own to support the adoption of this.
Jennifer: Also, because as I’ve had many conversations with these companies, the view is if you’re a for-profit, that you’re going to take everything you learn from me and use it against me eventually financially, to make more money. Right?
Jennifer: It’s a much easier time for me to convene three major companies in the tech sector at this table together to talk about how to solve a bigger problem together that I wouldn’t be able to do as a for-profit.
John: Makes sense.
Jennifer: It also puts us at a disadvantage financially because there are no private equity or venture funds to help us scale rapidly. We spend a lot of time piecemealing funding from 40 to 50 different sources of funding in order to make it work. In 7 years I’ve raised over $60 million in capital from state, federal, and philanthropic agencies. But that is hugely time-consuming and hard to sustain without concerted effort.
John: We’re raising capital, always is. I want to go back to that funding in a little bit. Let’s go back to the issue of your balancing act of the front end and back end.
John: How is that balancing act done by you on a regular basis in terms of people coming through the front door and wanting to be part of your candidate pool and corporations coming through the other door wanting to be on the pull side of your employee base and apprentice base?
Jennifer: You know our numbers, I think we’re just pushing 3000 right now. I have 280 companies, so that’s a little 11 per company on average and I have 38,000 applicants.
Jennifer: 38,000 people ready-made sitting in my canned pool. Let’s be fair of the 38,000, about 50% don’t pass the assessment. At least not the first time to get into that. If you’ll still look at half of those people…
Jennifer: Right? I’ve still got 19,000 people sitting here ready to go, 3000 places. I am happy to scale all of those numbers and take on as many companies and want to come knock down this door because I can’t get to you on my own, both basic blocking and tackling fast enough.
John: I love it. You were honored, Apprenti was honored by the US Department of Labor, Office of Apprenticeship as a member of the inaugural cohort of Apprenticeship Ambassadors. What does that mean?
Jennifer: To do exactly what we’re doing right here, talking about how do we move the needle meeting with as many companies and as organizations as we can to talk through what adoption looks like? Getting the country to change, have a better culture conversation, and talk particularly with large companies who have scale capacity about, this is not CSR, this is not corporate social responsibility where it might have been viewed six or seven years ago along with every boot camp out there and every other organization that says that they can create talent for you. Apprenticeship is a consistent, stable effort by the government and by major corporations and trade associations as a way to build a talent pipeline that can parallel the university track, but it requires sustained engagement. Companies have got to figure out how to funnel all of those other programs in one system in order for this to scale and for apprenticeship to become equitably what it is in all of Asia and all of Europe.
John: Amazing. Asia and Europe were that far ahead of us and we were that far behind.
Jennifer: Post World War II Europe went a hundred percent to apprenticeships as a way to train people. Whether you’re in culinary, veterinary, or medical, all roles you can do as apprenticeships. 30% go to university, and 70% go on apprenticeship. In fact, even if you go to Great Britain, 1% of the British GDP underwrites apprenticeships for the country and is automatically funneled. It is a required tax. Everybody finds it and every company is obligated to take apprentices.
John: That’s fast. Europe did it before Asia and then Asia followed them up.
Jennifer: Asia followed it, but Japan very similarly did it Post World War II. If you look at Korea, Singapore, and some in Vietnam, they probably are not as pervasive in terms of all industries, but in far more industries than the US, whereas, we have up until 10 years ago, been very heavy building construction and manufacturing trades.
Jennifer: It is only 10 years ago that really this became a bigger deal for financial services, healthcare, and everything else, trying to figure out how to do this and only actively funded 7 years ago.
Jennifer: We’re moving the needle very quickly, but it has been a very large learning curve.
John: That’s right.
Jennifer: Or company. Then there’s a culture change that has to come with that.
John: None of that’s easy by the way. None of that’s easy. Part of what you do or a lot of what you do is what we’re doing here today education.
Jennifer: That’s right.
John: [inaudible]. Apprenti was one of the three key stakeholders in the White House’s Cybersecurity Apprenticeship Sprint initiative. What is that?
Jennifer: Exactly what it sounds like it was a focus on accelerating company uptake of apprenticeships in Cybersecurity.
John: Under what administration?
Jennifer: The current, under Biden.
John: Got it. I just wanted to understand that.
John: What was the yield out of that?
Jennifer: I can’t speak on their behalf, but I think there were over a hundred companies that signed on collectively between the three of us. They’re now measuring outcomes on apprentice placements for the next couple of years. But there were already, I think 400 or 500 Apprentices collectively just during that window.
John: Let’s just say this. Net a huge success.
Jennifer: Huge success. Again, a big raising in awareness and piloting of how to do it. Yes.
John: Got it. The good job challenge. You were recently awarded a grant from the US Department of Commerce for the Good Job Challenge. What’s the Good Job Challenge?
Jennifer: The Good Job Challenge is exactly what it sounds like. It is intended to create jobs that have living wages. These are not minimum-wage jobs. This is not intended to be, 750 to $15 an hour jobs. These are jobs that can be sustained, family living wages for a family of four which means they’re healthcare manufacturing, IT, and financial services people who can get skilled through apprenticeship or similar programs into jobs that they either were eligible for, didn’t have degrees for and get placed with longevity. They are taking what was originally built by the US Department of Labor and expanding on that work. They’re actually launching a research study with the Census Bureau. I don’t know if I should talk about that, but I think I can. Where they’ll be able to track the outcomes from all 33 of us long-term so that they can see what the economic impact of this is. As you mentioned earlier the numbers that we have, my average wage for somebody who was employed coming into my program was 40,000 if they were engaged, if they had a job, 26% of them didn’t. They were unemployed or long-term unemployed coming into me. In the apprenticeship nationally, my median wage is 65 to 66, and my retained wage for that 88.5% is almost 90%. These are transforming outcomes, and that’s what they want to see for each of those sectors is what that look like and how long-term is it, and how sustained is it in terms of their ability to progress in their career after they get through an apprenticeship?
John: Then shifting over to the Good Jobs commerce grant, which you just received $23.5 million for the place of over 2000 apprentices over the course of three years.
John: Talk about the success, the net net success that came out of that 23 million. Because you said you raised about $60 million, that was 23 of it there, right?
Jennifer: That’s correct. We’re still…
John: What success looks like from that?
Jennifer: I’m looking at my watch. We’re 8 months into that, so we’re not 3 years into it. We’re only 8 months in.
John: Wow. Only 8. Okay.
Jennifer: 19,000 of that 23.5 million goes directly to pay for the classroom training. That is the RTI so that there’s no cost to the apprentices coming through the program. The other 4.5 million is distributed over some project work and our ability to staff this for the next, for the remaining term of the 3 years. There’s some Opex in there, but like I said, mostly the RTI or the classroom cost. Yeah.
John: Yeah. In terms of those apprentices that you’ve already started placing, let’s talk about how is it working. Some of the numbers I saw are really eye-popping. 88% of these apprentices are being retained by their employers post-apprenticeship.
John: 92% of these apprentices came from historically underrepresented groups, as we talked about earlier.
John: $86,000 a year average income.
Jennifer: Yep. Big money compared to what they were making coming in. Half of them have come a degree, but night and weekend school, online school for-profit schools, and none of them in tech really, it’s their liberal arts degrees, and the other half, no degree and they’re still there.
John: 17% of these apprentices have been identified as having some form of disability.
Jennifer: They’ve self-identified and asked for accommodation.
John: 25% or so, 24% to be exact were unemployed prior.
Jennifer: Yes. Correct.
John: Amazing. Jennifer, how many people now work for Apprenti?
Jennifer: Ooh, direct for me I think I’m at 22%.
Jennifer: Then there’s about 12 more that are shared resources with my business partner, the funder side.
John: Got it.
Jennifer: The trade association where we share business services.
John: Understood. Jennifer, obviously, the white space is still there, the void is still there, like I said you’re very young and but doing some great important work. What does the future look like? What’s your vision now, 8 years into this? Where are you going to take Apprenti in the years to come?
Jennifer: Well, we graduate 75,000 people with computer science degrees a year in this country.
Jennifer: Nowhere near enough. Out of 85,000 H-1B visas allowed in the country every year. Tech takes 60,000 of them. We left over 900,000 jobs vacant last year. I see no reason why apprenticeship, let alone Apprenti, shouldn’t be the third leg on that stool generating 80 to 100,000 apprentices a year. Shifting not only the way we view skill sets and talent and how we define talent but also changing the complexion of our talented workforce in tech. I would love to see that in the next 10 years scale rapidly so that we were delivering 10,000 apprentices a year instead of a thousand and jump getting a really high jump on not only closing that tech talent gap but also the fact that that number is going to continue to grow as we automate more and more. We’re going to create new jobs at a faster clip than we’re even creating them today. We’re so far behind that curve. I want to see this turn the corner of being a sustained and equitable talent pipeline comparable to college for everybody else, for everyone else that is 70% of the country.
John: That’s amazing. That statistic actually blew me away when you brought that up. I didn’t realize we leaving that many people behind and that many people felt like they were just knocking on the glass but don’t have a chance to get in the door.
Jennifer: Well, and there’s a debate going on about whether apprentices should count towards college credit. While we work on that right now, we are making some efforts to try and get a degree, or credit-bearing attached to it whether employers actually require it is a different subject, but we’re trying to avoid what we have discovered is called the paper ceiling. The idea is that this paper ceiling leads to you not being able to career progress because you didn’t have the degree. If we can get people further along that spectrum, let’s do it.
John: Well, listen, the truth is, with information democratization post-98, Google being founded and the internet world taking off, and great companies like yours leveraging technology to do the great work you’re doing, there’s no sense that, it’s no longer just this information that used to be on the hollowed ground at the are greater universities in America is they’re not just the only bestial of hope for education anymore. Now, your organization, the internet has democratized information and it’s out there for people if they want it.
John: To me, shame on us on the paper ceiling. If you’re a listener and you want to become a candidate and Jennifer’s great program or your company and you want to sign up and start hiring people taking on apprentices, please go to Jennifer’s site, Apprenti site, www.apprenticareers.org. Jennifer Carlson, you are the reason that we created this impact show 17 years ago or so. You’re doing great work. You’re making a better and more diverse workplace for us and filling voids that obviously need a filling. Thank you for spending time with us today. You’re always welcome back on the Impact Podcast to continue your journey and continue your great story. I wish you continued great health and success.
Jennifer: Thanks so much. I appreciate it.
John: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform revolutionizing the talent booking industry with thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent, for speeches, custom experiences, live streams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit letsengage.com.
John: This episode of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Close Loop Partners. Close Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts, and impact partners. Close loop platform spans the arc of capital, from venture capital to private equity, bridging gaps and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy, the fine closed loop partners, please go to www.closedlooppartners.com.