Featured Stories

IBM Apprentices Reinvent Their Careers with New Collar Skills

What does it take to change the trajectory of someone’s life?

IBM’s Apprenticeship Program is about to enter its second year of training new collar workers for the tech jobs of the future.

Launched in October 2017, the apprenticeship program has provided skills and workplace training to more than 170 people, including veterans, teachers, EMTs and even a dairy farmer. The program is part of IBM’s New Collar Jobs initiative, which helps develop skills in areas such as cybersecurity, design, data science, mobile development, cloud, artificial intelligence and blockchain. These new collar jobs prioritize skills over degrees, helping fill a growing skills gap in technology while giving participants career opportunities that were not previously available to them.

These programs are “creating new opportunities for people who thought that they could never have a career at a company like IBM or in the tech industry,” said Kelli Jordan, IBM’s talent leader for New Collar Initiatives. For IBM, it’s a way to build a workforce that is diverse in experiences and backgrounds, while opening up job opportunities in area of the country long underserved by the tech industry, like Raleigh, NC, Columbia MO, and Rocket Center, WV.

“There are more than 500,000 technology jobs open right now in the U.S., and it is becoming more difficult for organizations to find candidates with the right skills to fill them,” said Jordan. “Schools are just not producing the number of students that we need to fill those roles. While IT work often requires very specific skills and knowledge, many roles do not require a four-year degree.”

Fresh Start

As the first cohort of apprentices graduate from the year-long training program, several reflected on how it has changed their careers and their lives. Josh Hannaford, a software engineering apprentice, was working as an assistant manager at a shoe store and taking programming classes at a community college when his school’s IT department head called the IBM Apprenticeship Program to his attention.

“She said, ‘Josh you need to apply for this now,’” he remembered. “The very first words on those pages were, ‘No degree, no problem.’ And when I saw those, I’ll be honest, I just started crying.”

Hannaford had previously made the difficult decision to leave a four-year program, and he was worried that choice had closed off his career opportunities. However, having completed the IBM apprenticeship, he is now working as a “full stack” software developer on a public-facing website for IBM and its clients.

Switching Careers

IBM apprentices are part of the answer to a well-known problem—the technology skills shortage in the U.S. For some, that involves switching from one career to another.

Brandon Whittington, who is moving into a role at IBM as a blockchain support engineer, recalls the sense of opportunity he felt when he learned of the program.

“I was teaching at an elementary school and I was a technology facilitator, helping teachers and students utilize technology,” he said. “I wanted to make a transition in my career. The IBM apprenticeship really stood out because it had a combination of working and learning on the job.”

Tara Welch had been working as a nurse for 24 years when her career path changed, first as a result of a medical condition, then through an IBM apprenticeship.

Looking for a new career, Welch realized that the only thing she was as passionate about as nursing was technology. A drug neuromodulator had made it possible for her to walk pain free again. “I wanted to devote myself to technology because it gave me my life back,” she said.

Welch is now working as an IBM blockchain support engineer. The educational opportunities IBM offers were Welch’s favorite part of her apprenticeship. “I couldn't resist all the education at my fingertips,” she said. “The program requires about 200 hours of learning. I’ve just hit 500 hours.”

Josh and Tara, along with the rest of their cohort, will graduate IBM’s apprenticeship program as certified apprentices with the U.S. Department of Labor, armed with the skills to work in highly competitive, well-paying jobs in the tech industry right away.