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A Nuanced Take on IT Apprenticeships

Should IT up-and-comers be acquiring their skills via formal apprenticeships? Ed Tittel assesses an unfolding cybersecurity apprenticeship experiment in California guided by Steve Linthicum.

Old timey work crewIf there’s one key idea that’s been quietly gathering steam when it comes to addressing the IT skills gap, then it’s got to be the notion of an IT apprenticeship program. This approach to learning is more formal than many think, and has a history that stretches back at least to the Middle Ages.


In ancient times, most of the recognized crafts or trades — activities such as brewing, medicine, pottery, and building everything from wagons to ships — required families to turn over their children to a master craftsman for training and development. A typical apprenticeship period would be on the order of 7 to 10 years.


During that time the master provided food, lodging, basic necessities, and (of course) precious knowledge, in exchange for the apprentice’s labor. Six-day weeks of 10-plus-hour days were not unusual for an apprentice learning a trade or a craft. Thus, apprenticeship has often carried with it something of stigma, especially for those feeling trapped in the labor-intensive apprentice role.


Be that as it may, the tradition of apprenticeship still holds sway in many trades to this day, particularly those involving construction and infrastructure. Examples include plumbers, pipe- and steamfitters, electricians, installers and repairmen of every stripe, various heavy equipment operators, structural iron and steelworkers, and more.


I’ve been working in and around IT training and certification since the mid-1990s. During my entire tenure in this field, there’s been an undercurrent of conversation and ideas about apprenticeships. Occasionally, there are serious and pointed discussions on this subject, often from industry associations like CompTIA and others,


The gist of such discussion is usually (a) apprenticeship programs are a great idea, and (b) wouldn’t it be nice if we could put some together to fill our needs for skilled and knowledgeable IT professional who are truly ready to roll up their sleeves, and get to work? What’s too often been missing from this conversation has been the effort and commitment necessary to put a bona fide IT apprenticeship program of some kind together.


Ideally, it would be one that pairs classroom and on-the-job training, where the classroom imparts important concepts, information, and learning opportunities. Interactions with an experienced working professional (the modern equivalent of a master craftsman or master tradesman) would provide practical, hands-on opportunities to put in action one’s training.


Apprenticeship Program Takes Shape


In a fascinating pair of articles in a multi-part series for Certification Magazine, long-time community college instructor and information security professional Steve Linthicum explains what’s involved in putting an IT apprenticeship program together, attracting students, and reaching out to industry professionals to work with apprentices to help them learn by observing and doing the job in the workplace.