Apprenticeships are a new and old solution to job growth, here’s why

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Historically, apprenticeships in the U.S. have been the mainstay of the trades: carpenters,

welders, electricians all provided training that ultimately led to well-paying work and benefits. They were the gateway to the American Dream for many in the middle class, and they can be again.

{mosads}As concerns rise about income inequality and the limited opportunity for the next generation to do better, apprenticeships of a new kind will be key to bridging the economic divide. Re-imagined for the digital era, these roles have the potential to close the skills gaps in some of the economy’s fastest growing fields and reinvigorate parts of the country that have suffered economically in recent decades.

Right now, there are more than 6 million jobs in the U.S. that are going unfilled because employers can’t find candidates with the right skills, according to the Labor Department. In the IT industry alone, predicts that by 2020, there will be one million more tech jobs than applicants who can fill them.

IBM is committed to addressing this shortage and recently launched an apprenticeship program registered with the US Department of Labor, with a plan to have 100 apprentices in 2018. Our first group of apprentices started work this October at our Raleigh, North Carolina facility. Paired with IBM mentors, they are on their way to becoming software developers in our Cloud business and mainframe administrators for technologies like Blockchain, and we will add new apprenticeships in data analytics and cybersecurity as we replicate the program across the U.S.

Through our work with the Department of Labor, this apprenticeship program can serve as a model that other companies – together with education partners – can expand and scale across the country. Other firms have taken up the apprenticeship challenge as well. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, for example, has called for creating 5 million American apprentices in the next five years.

An apprenticeship offers the chance for Americans to get the formal education they need, whether through a traditional university, a community college or a trade school, while getting something else: On-the-job experience and an income. Apprentices start off with a competitive salary, and as they learn and get more experience, that salary increases. At the end of the training period, typically 12 to 18 months, they’ve earned an official certification through the US Department of Labor and are well-positioned to either earn a permanent role with their employer or take their new skills elsewhere in the industry.

And it pays off for workers. Ninety-one percent of apprentices in the U.S. find employment after completing their program, and their average starting wage is above $60,000.

If done right, these partnerships can start a wave of new-economy apprenticeships, bringing millions of workers into well-paying jobs, while enabling US companies to take full advantage of the growth opportunity of the digital economy. As a company that has called America home for over a century, IBM is committed to investing in apprenticeship programs so we can continue to drive innovation through our American workforce. Government support is essential, and steps have been taken in both the Obama and Trump administrations to expand access to high-tech apprenticeships.

As is the case with our P-TECH education program, these apprenticeships will put candidates in line for careers with IBM while also equipping them with valuable skills that will make them attractive to other employers across industries. It will increase job mobility and improve lifelong career trajectory. And like many of our other investments in education programs nationwide, apprenticeship programs provide opportunities for technology companies to make a lasting difference in communities traditionally underserved by our industry.

It’s time U.S. industry embrace the promise of these roles to create opportunity for our people, our businesses and our economy.

Joanna Daly is the vice president of talent at IBM.

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