Will H-1B Crackdown Drive Tech’s Embrace of Apprenticeships?

Will H-1B Crackdown Drive Tech’s Embrace of Apprenticeships?

Software engineers, cybersecurity experts, and other digital professionals are an increasingly crucial component of employers’ talent strategies, regardless of industry. Competition for scarce tech talent is particularly severe in Silicon Valley, however, which is why the US tech sector is particularly concerned about the Trump administration’s efforts to reduce the number of immigrants hired through skilled worker visa programs like the H-1B. That concern is now motivating these companies to look for other ways to source critical tech talent, Salvador Rodriguez reports at Inc., and apprenticeship programs appear to be one of the most promising options:

“One of the biggest barriers is that employers must be willing to accept the idea of apprenticeship programs,” says Charles Eaton, executive vice president of social innovation at CompTIA. “Regardless of the H-1B program, the tech industry is still having to find talent. They are right now hiring from each other. Most of those job openings are filled by people who already have jobs.”

Already, companies like Yelp, Pinterest, and Atlassian have dabbled in apprenticeships as a way to get more women and people of color into their engineering ranks. Regardless of the fate of the H-1B program, which brings in about 100,000 foreign workers to the U.S. each year, the talent shortage keeps growing. By the year 2020, as many as one million programming jobs in the U.S. could go unfilled, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Changes do suggest that companies are going to have to be more innovative in the ways that they go about finding talent for junior-level and entry-level programming positions,” says Jeff Mazur, vice president of partnerships at LaunchCode, a nonprofit organization that runs an apprenticeship program. … “The tech industry relies heavily on candidates with four-year college degrees, and if we continue to rely entirely on those candidates, we’re never going to close the gap,” Mazur says.

As Rodriguez notes, the tech talent shortage was already a challenge for employers before the Trump administration began making changes to federal immigration policy. Tech employers have been concerned for years now that the graduates coming out of university computer science programs in the US were neither numerous nor diverse enough to fill the gaps in the labor market.

This reality had already led organizations to rethink how they assess candidates’ qualifications: IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, for example, believes her company’s future lies in courting “new collar” tech talent who may not have (and will not need) four-year college degrees. Nontraditional education like coding bootcamps have become more and more popular as a way to grow the tech pipeline, but both students and employers complain that these bootcamps don’t always enable graduates to jump right into programming jobs as advertised.