Tech firms in Va. turn to paid apprenticeships to build talent

There are more than 50,000 currently unfilled technology-related jobs in Northern Virginia. (Getty Images/iStockphoto/wutwhanfoto)

Apprenticeships are associated with blue-collar trade professions, but more and more tech companies are turning to them for jobs that are difficult to fill because of a lack of skilled candidates.

They are, in effect, creating people with the exact skills they need, on their dime and in-house.

An apprenticeship is considerably different from an internship.

“An internship is usually a way for a candidate that is in a degreed program to get experience. Whereas apprenticeships typically don’t have a degree as a barrier to entry or enrollment in a degree program,” Victoria Schillinger, Vice President of HR at Tysons, Virginia-based home and business security tech firm, told WTOP.

“Apprenticeships are also structured to be longer, and therefore the degree of mentorship that is happening during the time period of the apprenticeship experience goes deeper,” she said.

Apprenticeships can last several months, or even a year. And they are paid jobs. recently wrapped up the first state-sponsored apprenticeship program for a tech company in Virginia. It included 10 weeks of technical instruction at Northern Virginia Community College, and nine months of on-the-job training. Most of those in its apprenticeship program were hired for full-time jobs. was among first grants awarded under the GO Virginia economic development initiative, which covered two-thirds of the company’s certification costs for its apprentices.

Also unlike internships, apprenticeships don’t put much, if any weight on a candidate’s formal education or work experience.

“When you’re looking for an apprentice, you’re looking for the right person and the right aptitude and not necessarily what is on a resume. You’re looking for people who have persevered, people that are naturally curious and that can problem-solve,” Schillinger said.

Because there are no formal education requirements, she said companies can draw from a much more socioeconomically diverse pool of candidates.

With more than 50,000 currently unfilled technology-related jobs in Northern Virginia, apprenticeships can also be a completive advantage for companies that are able to build that needed talent in-house.

There is free information about apprenticeship programs, including searches for available programs with apprenticeships such as engineering, software development and cybersecurity, posted online by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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