How Missouri’s Workforce Board Runs the State’s First-Ever Digital Apprenticeship Program

By R.C. Dirkes

How does a workforce board launch a digital apprenticeship program? One move -- hire CompTIA Tech to provide custom training.

In a recent episode of the award-winning Technologist Tales podcast, produced for  Creating IT Futures, Dr. Mardy Leathers, director of Missouri’s Office of Workforce Development, describes how his team collaborates with CompTIA Tech to offer the state’s first-ever digital apprenticeship program.

During their podcast conversation, Leathers tells Technologist Talk host R.C. “Bob” Dirkes the ground-breaking apprenticeship features tech credentials for IT help desk technicians and cybersecurity administration.

Here's an edited transcript:

Mardy Leathers: [We consider] apprenticeships as a fundamental component of our public workforce system and our education system in Missouri.

When we think about apprenticeships, we're thinking about opportunities to get more people to work who don't have skill sets or credentials currently… This allows an opportunity for entry … and then development. I think the other thing [an apprenticeship] does is allow people who are in the workforce now to begin to shift and mobilize. It creates an opportunity for them to be reinvested in by others, as well as to reinvest in themselves, to gain a new skill set, to begin to mobilize themselves throughout the labor markets.

We think apprenticeships can do that because of the way that they're structured. The first key point on apprenticeships is [they require] the key players to be at the table. You don't have an apprenticeship if you don't have an employer. …Most of our education and training programs historically have been designed by education and pushed outward to employers. Apprenticeships do the opposite. They start with the employer's need, the workplace needs, frankly, the learner and the apprentice need. Then [a program] pushes [those needs] into… formal education or non-formal training to begin to develop and supplement that apprenticeship program.

So, [an apprenticeship] flips the model from a traditional educational approach. And what we like about that is, again, it's employment upfront. Employers are at the table.

The second thing is you [must] have your training providers or your educational institutions at the table. …They're now sitting with the employers and they're saying, "How together do we design a training program or a curriculum that meets your needs, that helps you achieve your goals for your employee or your apprentice?"

Then, the third piece is what we call the intermediary. In many cases, the intermediary can be a third-party group, or it could be a government or a nonprofit organization. [In] Missouri, we've [set up] a lot of intermediaries, leveraging our local workforce development boards, our community college system and our high schools.

…You may say, "Well, that's the second leg. That's the training providers."

Not in all cases, because these are now the administrative bodies who actually are removing the burden of administration from the employer. So, the employer doesn't have to manage the apprenticeship program. [Employers] can focus on making sure that employee has the job opportunities and the structure [of the] on-the-job learning module, and the mentoring that they need, while at the same time, connecting the training providers.

…We're publicly funding the training side of apprenticeship programs in a way that allows employers to invest in the employee by employing them and enrolling in the program. …We are partnering with CompTIA to create the first-ever digital apprenticeship program in the State of Missouri.

We're starting at two job roles. One being a help desk service technician… an entry-level position. It doesn't have to be in an "IT firm." We're looking at help desk roles now in our government offices. They're in our educational institutions. They're in manufacturing. They're in our banks. So, we think about the digitalization of the jobs… what skill sets do we need in all sectors?

CompTIA is helping us do that with entry-level credentials around supporting help desk, as well as cybersecurity administration.


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