Closing the Skills Gap in Technology
Techtonic, a world-class software development services firm, created an outsourced apprenticeship program designed to close skill and equity gaps in technology.
By Keelia Estrada Moeller05/01/2019
It’s become increasingly clear that the high-tech industry lacks diversity. That’s why Techtonic, a world-class software development services firm, created an outsourced apprenticeship program designed to close skill and equity gaps in technology.
Techtonic began as a software company with pure off-shore software development, but an encounter with one young man changed CEO and Co-Founder Heather Terenzio’s perspective on where to take the company. “I was giving a talk at a vocational school about careers in technology,” she says. “A young man who was working as a catering participant came up to me afterwards and said, ‘I’d love to work for someone like you. I’ve been teaching myself to code for the past 10 years. I never graduated from high school, and I only have a GED, but if you hired me, you would never regret it.’ We brought him on board, and he was a sponge. He absorbed everything we told him and he loved the company.” Everyone at Techtonic appreciated the energy he brought as he learned new skills.
This experience led Terenzio to an epiphany. She realized others were out there like this young man, who don’t have traditional backgrounds but love to code, and have passion for pursuing a career in technology. “That’s when we started calling it an apprenticeship program in a tongue and cheek way, because that’s exactly what we were doing,” Terenzio says. “We were bringing people on, teaching them how to code and teaching them side by side with senior developers.” Terenzio and her team later realized that a federal designation existed that would enable Techtonic to be considered a formalized apprenticeship program. “We went out to get our certification. We became the first software development apprenticeship program in the United States and formalized the process,” she says.
“People latch on to an opportunity like this and make the most of it, and that's incredibly satisfying for a business owner and everyone who works here.”—Heather Terenzio, CEO and co-founder, Techtonic
Paid From Day 1
Techtonic’s outsourced apprenticeship program is unique in several ways. Not only does it focus on accepting women, people of color, youth and veterans, but those who participate are paid from Day 1.
“It’s not like entering boot camp where you have to take six months off and pay $20,000 to $30,000 to be a member,” Terenzio says. The program provides participants with a livable wage, enabling them to leave former jobs and make a full-time switch. “Once you take that cost barrier away, the diversity just starts showing up.”
Techtonic’s position as a software development company makes it possible to create this kind of paid apprenticeship program. “Clients come to us who need a product written for them. We will write that product, but at the same time, we will create a pipeline of talent for them,” Terenzio says. “So, while we’re building their software products, we’re building up and training a team that they can hire in-house. In effect, we become their apprenticeship program.” Techtonic shares the cost of training with clients, creating a system that benefits everyone involved.
Techtonic’s apprentices gain extensive classroom training and on-the-job experience as they work on client software products. Four to six months later, apprentice graduates are either hired directly by Techtonic or by one of the company’s customers.
To date, 75 people from diverse backgrounds have launched careers through Techtonic’s apprenticeship program. The next class of 20 will begin in September 2019. Others are noticing the results and contributing, too. Last spring, Techtonic attracted $2 million in funding from education and training investing firm University Ventures, Zoma Capital and Yucatan Rock Ventures, creating even greater room for opportunity and growth.
For Terenzio, Techtonic’s shift toward creating an outsourced apprenticeship program has been especially rewarding. “Taking this pivot into what we’re doing today is the most fun I’ve had in my entire career,” she says. “We’re changing the course of people’s lives. People latch on to an opportunity like this and make the most of it, and that’s incredibly satisfying for a business owner and everyone who works here.”
Keelia Estrada Moeller is the managing editor of IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z.
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