Part III: The Urgent Case for Apprenticeships in Silicon Valley

How Tech Companies Can Fill Jobs, Drive Economic Growth and Win the War for Talent and Diversity

Jenny Dearborn, MEd, MBA, Executive Vice President, Human Resources, SAP

Third in a three-part series examining the potential of apprenticeships to close the vast and growing gap between tech jobs and workers with the skills to fill them. Part I | Part II 

As a talent leader in tech, few challenges keep me up at night like the alarming, and growing, gap between jobs requiring computer skills and workers with those skills: computer science majors who graduated into the American workforce last year would fill less than one tenth of the total open computing jobs in the US (49,291 grads vs. 546,480 jobs, according to  

These critical talent shortages are “slowing IT employers’ efforts to innovate, expand and excel,” according to the US Department of Labor, posing a risk to American infrastructure, security and economic competitiveness. We must act now. Apprenticeships can help. 

Apprenticeships are used effectively in many parts of the world, especially Europe, as workforce development strategies, often government-supported. Tech companies–and others needing IT-skilled workers–must urgently begin to adopt them here, too, as a smart, sustainable way to develop talent for technology jobs that require “middle skills”: more than a high school diploma, less than a college degree.  

Apprenticeships are structured learn-and-earn programs that:

  • Enable employers to tailor a multi-year skills development framework to their exact specifications, in collaboration with an educational partner (often a community or technical college, and, increasingly, coding and other IT “boot camps”)
  • Empower workers who can’t afford or don’t want a college degree to get skills training and a chance at a stable career in a high-demand occupation, through a paid work/study program.

A strong network of tech-focused apprenticeships in Silicon Valley (and elsewhere) can begin to help us address our key challenges and mitigate the factors contributing to the IT skills gap:

Far-ranging benefits have been captured in a broad study, from increases in productivity and quality to lower attrition, recruiting costs and supervisory requirements:

Source: Case Western Reserve University, US Department of Commerce

Apprenticeships pay off. In Canada, for every $1 invested in apprenticeship programs, employers receive $1.47 in return. In England, it’s estimated that one apprenticeship raises an employer’s economic output by £214—about $275—per week. Employers in Switzerland earn a net $300 million annually from work apprentices do during on-the-job training. In addition to these overseas successes, the US Department of Commerce estimates at least a 40 percent ROI relative to other recruitment approaches.

Apprenticeships can also help tech companies increase workforce diversity, a challenge across the sector. Here, Silicon Valley is uniquely positioned to drive real change: California is home to the top two most ethnically diverse metropolitan areas in the country—San Jose and the San Francisco area—and six of the 10 most diverse metro areas, while 63.8 percent of California state apprenticeship participants are from minority communities.

Act now. Explore how apprenticeships can help build your talent pipeline and drive positive impact for your company and the workers in your community and beyond. Here are three initial steps:

  • Take a deeper dive into this critically important topic (perhaps with these US and California resources).
  • Assess your strategic talent needs and gaps that could be addressed with apprenticeships.
  • Identify partners, both among regional apprenticeship resources*—including peer companies—and potential internal supporters.

Technology apprenticeships truly can help companies fill jobs, drive economic growth and win the war for talent and diversity. Let us give them our urgent attention.

SAP is co-sponsoring the first Silicon Valley Apprenticeship Summit on Tuesday, August 28, 2018 on our Palo Alto campus. I urge my colleagues at forward-looking companies to join us to learn more about how to build or advance apprenticeships. For more, visit or contact [email protected].

*Such as Summit co-sponsors ApprentiTechSF and Techtonica.