When most people think of apprenticeships, they think of the trades (electricians, plumbers, etc.). Over the past year or so, however, there has been an increase in press regarding internships as a new tool for recruiting and retaining new employees in the IT and cybersecurity fields.
In November 2022, the office of the Secretary of Defense issued a memo to all DoD components entitled, “Expanding Cybersecurity Workforce by Eliminating Educational Barriers and Leveraging Apprenticeship Programs.” Acknowledging the growing shortfall of cybersecurity professionals, the memo encourages both the DoD and the industrial base to “consider qualified applicants who have obtained appropriate qualifications through training, industry certifications, on-the-job training, or apprenticeship programs.”
What is an apprenticeship program?
There are two “levels” of apprenticeships: standard apprenticeships focus on college students and youth apprenticeships focus on juniors and seniors in high school.
In addition to the apprentice, there are three other roles:
- The employer hires the apprentice full time for a period of two years (for the IT and cyber tracks) and provides on-the-job training in the related field. For the youth apprentices, the employer hires the candidate at half time.
- The sponsor is an organization registered with the State of Maryland that provides administrative functions, such as monitoring the progress of apprentices, filing the required documentation with the state, etc. Sponsors charge an administrative fee to the employer.
- These are accredited universities that provide courses resulting in certifications to be obtained during the two years.
A single organization can play multiple roles. An employer can become a registered sponsor and develop their own internal courses. Universities can become sponsors and play both the sponsor and educator roles. Howard Community College, for example, is a registered sponsor that provides both IT and cyber tracks approved by the State of Maryland.
As indicated in the title of the DoD Memo, one of the roadblocks to apprenticeships for companies serving the DoD and intel agencies is “educational barriers.” Contracts with these agencies typically include entry level labor categories requiring four-year degrees. Holding an active security clearance is also a common requirement. Unless the Government removes these requirements from their contracts, it will be hard for companies to embrace the apprenticeship approach.
The FMA Education and Workforce Development Committee has partnered with the Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation (AAWDC) to see how the FMA can support apprenticeships. Although we are just beginning, here are some things under consideration:
- Educating employers on the costs and benefits of hiring apprentices.
- Helping employers navigate the process, including obtaining Maryland tax credits, and partial funding for salaries and courses.
- Working with Government agencies to remove the educational barriers, allowing apprentices to be applied to projects.
- Working with the educational institutions to make sure the certifications required are provided in their curricula.
There is great potential in using the apprenticeship approach to develop our workforce. Not only has the DoD identified apprenticeships as key to our future, but so has the US Department of Labor, the State of Maryland and our local counties. These organizations are eager to help.