THE DATA IS IN
Twenty-nine months after launching our Registered Apprenticeship
Program, we now have substantial data on completers. It’s good news all around
ON DECEMBER 12, 2019, the very first Arkansas cohort of apprentices began their formal journey toward careers in the burgeoning field of Information Technology. There were seven of them, six males and one female. All of them hailed from Northwest Arkansas—Springdale, Decatur, Bella Vista, Lowell, Rogers, and Fayetteville. Three of the seven had some college or an Associate’s Degree, and the remaining four listed themselves as “High school graduate
(including equivalency).” Their ages ranged from 24 to 39. All were hired as apprentices in the Software Developer occupation and all were new hires for young Information Technology companies. As these pioneers completed their journey, the story of what this means for Arkansans in terms of career opportunities and access to the high-wage field of IT has just begun.
While starting salaries vary by company and occupation, apprentices have started at salaries ranging from $32,000 to over $100,000, with average wage increases at 17 percent. Here is a quick look at the average wage-increase percentage across eight different IT occupations for Registered Apprentices:
Software Developer – 26%
IT Business Analyst – 4.5%
Computer Programmer – 17%
Computer Systems Analyst – 10%
Cybersecurity Specialist – 21%
IT Generalist – 10%
IT Project Manager – 7%
Management Systems Auditor – 10%
Over the two-plus years since that first apprenticeship cohort, ACDS has helped more than 70 Arkansas employers to engage 362 apprentices (as of this writing) through a variety of cohort designs, from community (multiple company apprentices trained together) to internal (single company with multiple apprentices trained together) for a specific occupation.
As soon as an apprentice is hired by a company, his or her data—including age, gender, race, education level, new hire or incumbent, occupation, and starting salary—is entered into a Department of Labor database called RAPIDS, an acronym for Registered Apprenticeship Program Information Data System. Then, once the apprentice completes his or her requirements as a Registered Apprentice, we begin to have data that demonstrates the effectiveness of this RA model for both the individual and the company.
Of the 120 Arkansas IT apprentices who began their training between December 2019 and May 2021, 111 of them—more than 90 percent—went the distance, successfully completing their requirements, and they’re the ones whose data we’ve just received. Going forward, we’ll be able to share increasingly detailed data showing the ways that Registered Apprenticeships are changing the workforce landscape here in The Natural State.
For this initial report, I’m excited to share some of the insights into what this data tells us. Whether you’re a computer science student or not, a college student or not, a parent, a career changer, a veteran, a minority or rural worker, or someone who hasn’t yet found your path—whoever you are, if you live and work in Arkansas, or you want to live and work in Arkansas, this is good news indeed. And don’t think this is just about young people and entry-level jobs. In this database of 111 apprentices, we have folks who are 20 and folks who are 56.
Here are some highlights:
On average, in the IT profession about 23 percent of workers are female. For our first 111 apprentices, there were 30 females and 34 minorities—but what that really says is that 64 out of 111 were either minority, female, or both. And that was just the tip of the iceberg, because now we’re actually up to 362 apprentices. While the 111 completers are those on whom we have full data, I can tell you that out of the overall 362 apprentices, we’re now at
nearly 38 percent female. And our minority share has grown significantly—among our apprentices, we’re now at almost 35 percent minorities. I think these statistics are really indicative of the fact that this program “opens the door” to those who haven’t had the same access and availability to these kinds of programs. Now they do.
Out of these first 111 apprenticeship completers, 54 were new hires and 57 were incumbents—that is, already employed workers within a company. So, it’s almost a 50-50 split. We attribute the high number of incumbents to the fact that during the height of the pandemic, employers were a little hesitant to hire new folks, so they reskilled and advanced their existing employees. Now, with 362 apprentices to consider, we can predict that we’ll be
averaging more like 65 percent new hires and 35 percent incumbents. We’ll talk more about that in a later newsletter.
But what this significant percentage mix tells us is that our Registered Apprenticeship program is adding new capacity but also greater capability to the workforce. As this supplemental talent strategy continues to be better and better understood by employers, they see that it’s not just about entry-level positions; rather, it supports total succession management for a company. Some companies would love to advance their internal people, but they can’t afford to pay for the training, while also having to replace them in their present positions. That’s why we at ACDS increasingly refer to Registered Apprenticeships as a possible “advance and replace strategy,” by using apprenticeships for both the incumbent to advance and for the new hire to come in and replace.
Back in 2018 when the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission called for the creation of ACDS, the statistics that were being quoted were something like, “We have 7,000 open IT jobs in this state and some 700 college graduates in tech statewide.” It was a gaping supply/demand gap, and those college graduates weren’t ever going to be able to fill all of those jobs, many of which were not just entry level. Now we’re seeing proof that apprenticeships can work at any level, and that, through them, we’re really addressing the
Many people tend to get caught up in questions about “average salaries,” which are hard to pin down, because they depend so much on the skill level of the person hired and the specific requirements of the different occupations themselves. The data tells us that 40 of our 111 didn’t have a two- or four-year degree. That means that they had completed high school, and twelve of them had completed some beginning college work, but without getting a two- or four-year degree. On the other hand, 65 of them did have a two-year certificate or a four-year degree in something. We even had six Master’s candidates in that group of 111.
This new apprenticeship data is good news on every front, and here’s why. Before ACDS introduced Registered IT Apprenticeships, there was little awareness on the part of Arkansas employers that this could fuel the pathway for candidates, who previously saw themselves as not qualified. But with this completion rate of over 90 percent, not only have we shown that
these apprentices can come in and learn the particular employers’ culture and ways of operating; we’ve also shown we can “teach tech.” That’s good news for the candidates, of course, because they’ve now established a career. They’re going to stay. Not only did they get an opportunity that they never thought they’d receive, but then they got a nice increase over what was already a really good salary for them. This success should be contagious.
The company also wins, because they now do have an avenue to find a more diverse workforce and they can trust that they’re not settling for something less. But the mere fact that they can even find them is the real message. Because these employers used to look out over the chasm, and they would have these requirements of a degree, or very specific minimum job requirements, and they’d look out there are say, “Well, I don’t see anybody
out there that meets that.” At the same time, those same candidates were looking across the chasm from the other direction, saying, “I think I could do that work.” But then they looked at the job description and said, “Well, guess I’m not qualified.” So they never even applied. Once again, this brings us to one of my favorite metaphors for ACDS: the bridge. We bring the employer and the candidate together, and the employer takes two steps closer to where the candidate is, and the candidate takes two steps toward a field of interest. And we meet in the middle.
In this way, they’ve opened the door (to mix my metaphors!) to a much broader base of Arkansans. The demographic of what that looks like is good news to workforce boards, and it’s good news to the governor’s office. We’ve said we have something special here in Arkansas that differentiates us. We can say it all we want, but until we have some evidence, can anyone believe it?
Well, now we’ve got some evidence to go share.