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WunderLand
By
October 25, 2012

Tech Talent Shortages: Maybe it's time to go 'old-school'

Being a tech nut and futurist, I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but perhaps it is time to revisit an 'old school' way of developing the skilled workers we need - Apprenticeships.

Apprenticeship History in America

America used Apprenticeship programs to help us become a manufacturing powerhouse when we found ourselves without sufficient numbers of skilled workers. Today's tech talent shortage isn't really all that different.

The idea of Apprenticeships came to America from England with our early settlers. In England, master craftsmen hired apprentices in an exchange for training for service/employment. Once they finished their apprenticeship, they traveled from employer to employer earning wages as journeymen. When, or if, they accumulated enough money, journeymen would then set up shop as independent businesses and became members of their craft guilds (forerunners of our unions), and then trained more apprentices. These craft guilds had the power to give and rescind rights and privileges upon their members, and thereby to regulate competition among themselves.

Read this article for more history.

As America progressed, the role of Apprenticeships grew as we found ourselves lacking workers with some of the 'new' skills needed for business. My own father apprenticed as an engineering draftsman right out of high school, and this led to a long, viable career that eventually saw him become President of an electrical engineering firm, despite the fact he did not attend college or a specialized school for engineers.

But today, because we don't have Apprenticeship programs for most job types, people are expected to go to college in order to get a job.

What's wrong with that? Just the fact that thousands upon thousands of smart kids will not be able to go to college. Does that - and SHOULD that - mean no technology careers for them?

Since I've been recruiting web tech talent since the first web boom days of the late 90's, I can attest to the fact that there is a finite number of experienced tech workers in the U.S. Today businesses fight over the same people, which has caused salaries to rise faster than other job types, and forcing companies to offer more and more amenities and perks to get them to work there. Unfortunately, that's short-sighted, as these experienced workers can just keep moving on to the next highest bidder or the 'coolest' company.

Throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what will stick

I'm hearing lots of talk from our politicians and business leaders about technology jobs and the talent shortage, but I'm not seeing any viable solutions - yet. What I am seeing are companies putting bandages on gaping, bleeding wounds.

Seems like everyone is building job posting or resume posting web sites - from entrepreneurs or tech start-ups who seek the revenue from (desperate) companies needing to hire, to companies (like 37 Signals who created their own job board because they have the tech staff to build it, can make money from the job posting revenue, and, hopefully, gain some new employees themselves), to organizations like Built in Chicago and the Illinois Technology Association.

In fact, the last 5 years have seen a proliferation of new job posting sites across the country. Has this helped quell the complaints about tech talent shortages? Of course not. We don't need more job postings or more resume sites, we need more skilled workers.

I think the answer is to 'build' our own talent, not build more job web sites! Apprenticeship programs (not internships) might just be the answer.

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