Why Apprenticeships Are on the Rise

on Tuesday, April 12 @ 8:05pm

Ask any VP of Engineering or CTO, and they’ll tell you hiring talented developers is getting harder. Meanwhile, ask one of the millions of underemployed millennials, and they’ll say they are willing to learn, but can’t get their foot in the door. Apprenticeship was once a commonplace feature of the American economy, but for the last 30 years it has been in decline. Apprenticeships are the critical link to closing the skills gap for employers and reducing unemployment for millennials.

To understand why apprenticeships can bridge the gap, let’s take a look at the marketplace for technical talent.

Traditional Universities are Failing Us

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First, the gap between supply and demand for technical talent is widening. On the supply side of the marketplace for technical talent, we have universities. According to the Department of Labor, 400,000 new CS grads will enter the workforce between 2010 and 2020. In that same period, nearly 1.4 million new tech jobs will be created. That’s a shortage – a skills gap of – 1 million more jobs than graduates.

Second, even those students graduating in computer science, aren’t prepared for careers in software engineering. Universities care about helping students become job-ready. But that isn’t their singular goal. Many also seek to teach a liberal arts education and to publish ground-breaking research. Because of this, there is no singular focus on one goal. As a result, students graduate ill-prepared for industry. According to Brad Neese, director of Apprenticeship Carolina, employers are seeing “a real lack of applicability in terms of skill level” from college graduates.

For example, top tier university computer science curricula often include courses in advanced math, physics, compilers, and operating systems. When we surveyed engineers at top companies like Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Amazon, they told us they used less than 25% of their university education in their career. According to Rob Gonzales, co-founder of Salsify, “many ‘core’ CS courses really aren’t that critical for becoming very productive engineers. I’ve never had to write a compiler or operating system in my career, and the last time I thought about finite automata was 2001 when I was studying them myself.”

Meanwhile, few universities teach essential skills a software engineer will use every day. According to Mo Kudeki, a Software Engineer at Twitter, “Although I went to a top Computer Science program, there are software engineering topics that we never covered that are crucial to being a great engineer, like how to methodically debug something, and how to give and receive a good code review.”

All of these factors combined result in a tremendous mismatch between the skills with which American students graduate and the skills needed by employers.

Employers are Hungry But Ill-Equipped to Train

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While employers are hungry to recruit great talent, their appetite for growing that talent themselves has been declining for the past decade. According to Lauren Weber of the WSJ, apprenticeships in the US have declined over 30% from 2003 to 2013.

Furthermore, even those companies that want to provision such training may be unable to do so. Training programs require experienced instructors. According to Gonzales, “you must have someone to manage the program full time, including doing daily coaching, code reviews, design sessions, planning sessions, one-on-ones, communication outside of the group to gather requirements, etc. This person should be respected throughout the organization, as getting the program started and effective is going to be a bumpy road that will draw on company resources even beyond the coach.”

Unfortunately, the shortage of technical talent has left most companies without the bench strength to fill existing headcount and also train a large pool of junior developers. According to Marcy Capron, the founder and CEO of Chicago-based Polymathic: “Companies don’t have an infrastructure for ongoing learning. We really need a guide to mentoring junior devs. Hourly consulting firms can’t afford it because you can’t bill mentoring to the client.

We’re Seeing Renewed Investment and Innovation in Technical Skills Training

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So with universities failing us, and employers hungry but unable to grow their own talent, a new breed of apprenticeship-like programs have leveraged technology to deliver better outcomes, more affordably than ever before. Computer science bootcamps put students through compressed programs to prepare them for coding jobs. These bootcamp programs have found traction with employers and graduates alike. The first coding bootcamp was founded just four years ago, but Course Report estimates that over 150 bootcamps graduated more than 16,000 alumni in 2015 – a combined estimated market of $180M, up from $0 in 2011.

According to Western Governors University President Bob Mendenhall in the Washington Post “Neither accreditation nor regulation has caught up with the power of technology to impact both the quality and cost and accessibility of higher education.” And last month, Udacity raised $105 Million bringing their valuation to $1 billion, Dev Bootcamp was acquired by Kaplan, and Bloc recently announced a year-long Software Engineering Track, which includes a three month apprenticeship, before students start the job search. And now a slew of specialized apprenticeship programs are emerging.

Employees are also more open to non-traditional university education than ever before. According to a 2014 survey by Glassdoor, 72 percent of employees said they value specialized training over earning a degree. What’s more, 63 percent of respondents said they believe that nontraditional ways of learning new skills — such as certificate programs, bootcamps, webinars and massive open online courses — could help them earn a bigger paycheck. This growth for nontraditional skills training may be coming at the expense of graduate programs, with more than half (53%) of employees saying a graduate degree is no longer necessary to be offered a high-paying job.

What Should We Expect to See in 2016?

As apprentice-like programs cross the chasm from early adopters to early majority, we may see see savvy millennials foregoing the traditional 4-year campus experience in favor of a leaner hybrid, pairing community college with a technical apprenticeship that gets them into the workforce and learning on the job earlier and with less debt.

With the hype around coding bootcamps reaching it’s zenith, we may see these programs coming full-circle, as they begin adding-back curriculum covering the computer science theory that they once eschewed.

More advice on changing careers

How a Top Programming Bootcamp Can Get You Ready for a Job as a Software Developer

Today’s modern programming bootcamps promise job readiness upon graduation, and in this post we’ll discuss how they deliver on that pledge. While Bloc wrote this for Bloc, this content applies to most well-known programming bootcamps (e.g. Hack Reactor, MakerSquare, Dev Bootcamp). We’ll explore three features that bootcamps provide to help students prepare for their new careers.

Skills

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First and foremost, a programming bootcamp imbues students with the necessary skills required for their new career. For Bloc’s Full Stack Developer Track, that means Ruby on Rails, Ruby, Javascript, the command line, Git, GitHub, and many more technologies. Though similar, each bootcamp instructs a slightly different set of skills. The industry finds most (if not all) of these skills relevant and highly sought-after. Regardless where a student studies or the tech stack they master, it is a good bet that career opportunities await on the other side.

More importantly, the software industry is one where within a year’s time or less, an up-and-coming tech stack can overthrow the standard – the industry changes all the time. Bootcamps employ working professionals who incorporate the latest technologies into the curriculum to combat the sector’s ever-changing landscape. These individuals filter the noise to discover the technological shifts critical to their student’s education and success.

Bootcamps also have students engage and master soft skills, such as Agile and Test-Driven development (TDD). Agile is a project management paradigm that is prevalent among many startups and established companies. Similarly, many organizations follow TDD practices that require developers to write tests before writing the code that runs the application. Bootcamps that employ these soft skills better prepare their students for their future work environments.

For a complete list of technical topics covered in Bloc’s Full Stack Developer Track, refer to our Rails and Frontend technology resources.

Portfolio

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Every developer should have a portfolio. For seasoned developers, it is a combination of projects worked on in corporate, contract, open source, and personal environments. For bootcamp graduates, the stakes are not quite as high. However, a bootcamp helps students build a modest portfolio of two to four fully functional, well-designed applications.

A portfolio reflects upon a student’s ability to apply their new skills and create something of their own. During an interview, students not only have applications to talk about, but may open up a laptop and show their interviewer said applications, what they do, and how they work. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a working application is worth 10,000 lines of code (or something like that).

At Bloc, we require students to complete three projects before they graduate, and many often build more than that. We help students along the way, guiding them with mentorship and high-level architecture concepts. Students may also choose to develop a capstone project, one that is entirely of their own design. Students often graduate Bloc with an excellent showcase project or even a full portfolio of apps.

Career Preparation

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A skilled student with an excellent portfolio of applications is ready for one last thing: the job hunt. Bootcamps that aim to find gainful employment for their students will prepare them for the arduous task of looking for career opportunities. This begins with the fundamentals: resumes, online profiles (LinkedIn, GitHub, StackOverflow) and cover letters.

Most bootcamps go much further, often requiring the student to participate in mock phone screens and in-person interviews. This includes practicing interview questions, both technical and otherwise.

Once a student is adequately prepared for an actual job search, the bootcamp and its partners work together to find employment opportunities for them. Bootcamps have extensive networks of mentors, recruiters, and corporate partners that want to snatch up talent before losing it to the competition.

Established companies such as Autodesk, Starbucks, and Groupon have hired our graduates. Bloc’s mentors, and even Bloc itself, have hired graduates in the past, a practice that has resulted in great outcomes on both sides.


If a bootcamp can endow a student with fundamental skills, a stunning portfolio of applications, and the tools required to begin a job hunt, it prepares that student for a career as a software developer.

How a Top Programming Bootcamp Can Get You Ready for a Job as a Software Developer
Meet Jack Pope, Marketer Turned Web Developer

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We had the chance to catch up with Rails Web Development alum Jack Pope, on what life has been like post-Bloc. Originally from Connecticut, Pope recently moved to New York after accepting a job as a web developer at Tsu, a social media company.

Before enrolling in Bloc, Jack was a photographer and internet marketer. As he got involved with the more technical aspects of his job as a marketer, Jack’s interest in web development was piqued. Although he had some experience with HTML and CSS, he found himself wanting more.

Determined to learn, Jack looked into on-site coding bootcamps in his area. While applying, he kept running into the same dilemma: the upcoming cohorts weren’t starting for another 4-5 months. He refused to wait that long; his mind was set, and he wanted to start programming immediately.

Jack found Bloc, an online alternative to the on-premise programming schools that allowed him to start almost immediately. According to Jack, “Bloc’s just way more practical.” He gave his 2-week notice, and started his course at Bloc.

After completing Bloc’s 12-week Rails Web Development course, he started freelancing and adding projects to his Bloc-built portfolio. “I definitely learned a lot at Bloc and it was a great foundation, but the extra time to work on real projects after Bloc was really important.” Equipped with Bloc’s 12-week course and eight additional months of freelance work, Jack was ready to get a web developer job. He started his job hunt in September, and accepted his offer at Tsu in December.

For Jack, the job hunt was tough but crucial for learning. As expected, there were many rejections before he found the job he wanted. When asked about what he learned from his job search post-Bloc, Jack said, “The interviews you go in for and get rejected from are still really useful. I wouldn’t have passed the interview for this job had it not been for the previous interviews I went through. In each interview, I picked up a different skill and learned how to answer questions in a better way. Even the ones you end up not wanting or getting rejected from are worth having because they’ll help you prepare for the right interview and right job.”

So, what’s Jack up to now? As a Connecticut transplant in New York, Jack is busy working at Tsu, eating all of New York’s delicious food, and exploring the city he now calls home.

If you are looking for a similar career change, check out our Software Engineering Track.

Sign up for one of our upcoming online info sessions to learn more.

Meet Jack Pope, Marketer Turned Web Developer