How Verizon’s Apprenticeship Program Is Helping to Solve the Talent Gap

01/24/2022
Serena Kappes
Serena Kappes is a workforce expert who advises Ivy League graduates on how to connect with recruiters and break into their desired industries. She has worked with Korn Ferry, Acorns Securities, and MarketWatch.
How Verizon’s Apprenticeship Program Is Helping to Solve the Talent Gap

The demand for tech talent around the world is greater than ever. In addition to continuously recruiting qualified applicants, companies like Verizon are taking control by putting a modern spin on a traditional job-training program: the apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships combine a classroom or online curriculum with on-the-job training. While common in occupations like carpentry and masonry, Harvard research indicates apprenticeships could help fill skill gaps in more than 75 industries, including architecture, graphic design, and nuclear medicine.

Verizon launched its Thrive apprenticeship program in Dallas in June 2021. “The world is fast becoming a place where the skills you have are far more important than how or when you get them,” Sam Hammock, Executive Vice President and CHRO at Verizon, tells Staffing.com. “With that, we are working to redefine our job requirements and talent process to prioritize skills and capabilities. As part of this strategy, we created our apprenticeship program to open doors to careers in technology for aspiring innovators who would otherwise struggle to enter.”

Apprenticeships offer valuable training for job seekers without the expenses and debt of higher education. Companies benefit from apprenticeships both in access to skilled workers and a 92% employee retention rate of people who have come through the program. In many states, businesses can qualify for tax credits by hiring apprentices, and employers can apply for funding and other resources from federal programs.

How the Program Works

In developing the apprenticeship program, Verizon focused on solving two problems.

First, the costs of acquiring tech talent can be extremely high. “It’s a very competitive market, especially when we’re looking at technology functions,” Steve West, Director of Global Talent Acquisition at Verizon, tells Staffing.com.

Second, diverse candidates face numerous roadblocks when applying for tech roles. “The program allows individuals who are at risk of unemployment, are unemployed, or are underemployed to go through technical skills-based training and completely reshape their careers at no cost,” West says. “It provides an entry point to a technical career path that does not require prior experience or education, which opens the door for anyone with a passion and drive to succeed.” He points out that Verizon has seen strong diversity through this program, which has greatly exceeded the company’s business-as-usual hiring.

To find candidates, the company partnered with Generation USA, a nonprofit organization that offers free, technology-focused career training to help reskill workers. (Verizon donated $44 million to Generation USA to help the nonprofit expand its classroom training to 26 cities by the end of 2022.) Graduates from Generation USA's 15-week full-stack Java developer boot camp in Dallas interviewed with Verizon for 21 full-time, paid roles that had been designated for the apprenticeship program.

“We have people ranging from right out of high school to people who have gone to college and gotten a degree and changed their career path later on,” says West. They include former firefighter Johnny Tyson III and Sharon Kindles, who worked as a detention officer.

The title of this graphic is US Apprenticeships by the Year. Beneath the title there are four lines of text. 1.9 million+ new apprentices since FY11 38% more active apprentices than the previous ten year average (636,000 vs. 459,000) 349,000+ participants completed an apprenticeship in the last five years 13,500+ new apprenticeship programs created since 2017. The source of this information is the US Department of Labor.

The 12-month apprenticeship program consists of 80% applied on-the-job learning and 20% instructional training. For example, apprentices' schedules might include three weeks of working with Verizon managers and colleagues followed by one week of classroom education.

Though Verizon’s apprentices are working in a hybrid model, combining Dallas-based office work and remote work, that may change as the program evolves. “The plan is that they will follow their groups’ Work Forward designation, so most will become hybrid employees,” says West.

Partnering for Success

One of the first steps in getting Verizon’s apprenticeship program off the ground was engaging business leaders, says West. It was not a tough sell. “We said, ‘Hey, we have this opportunity to train people and bring them in at a low cost point in the skills that you need, and it’s going to impact your diversity as well. Do you want in?’” says West, who is the program’s key business stakeholder and responsible for its long-term strategic planning. “It was a no-brainer for them.”

Verizon partnered with the nonprofit Jobs for the Future (JFF) to build the program based on business-unit needs; with Generation USA to expand access to digital skills; and with apprenticeship-focused startup Multiverse to deliver the virtual curriculum.

“JFF helped provide us with consultative guidance on how to design an apprenticeship program that fits the needs of our business and aligns with our Citizen Verizon goals, while also looking ahead to the future of [Department of Labor] requirements,” West says. “Generation USA is a core partner of our reskilling strategy, so it was a natural fit to leverage our work with Generation to be our feeder pool of talent for this apprenticeship.”

The title of this chart is The Growing Role of Apprenticeships in the US A bar chart shows a steady increase in apprenticeships from roughly 125,000 in 2011 to 225,000 in 2020. A text box next to the chart reads: The COVID-19 pandemic's affect on the national economy resulted in a 12% decline in the number of new apprentices in FY 2020 compared to FY 2019. Even with this decline, FY 2020 numbers are the third-highest ever for the Registered Apprenticeship program. The source of this information is the US Department of Labor.

West adds that Multiverse, as a proven leader in apprenticeship delivery, guided the company on best practices and lessons learned from prior clients, enabling Verizon to deliver an exceptional apprenticeship. “I also met with many other talent leaders from peer companies, including AON, Accenture, Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, Peloton, and more, to learn about programs they’ve launched or piloted to ensure that we had market comparators for success,” he says.

Once the 21 developers-in-training were hired, each was assigned a one-on-one Multiverse coach as well as a Verizon peer mentor “to ensure that they have all the tools and resources that they need to be successful,” says West. Work projects for the Java developer apprentices include building dashboards for tracking metrics used by C-level executives and working on Verizon’s internal end-to-end software tests.

With apprentices spread across departments, it was essential to “rally the troops around what we were trying to accomplish,” West adds. This included cross-functional groups to map out timelines, align on projects, and assign a host manager to ensure a positive onboarding experience. “It took a village to really get this program off the ground.”

Starting Small and Scaling

Although the first group of 21 apprentices focused only on Java, the second cohort of 33, which started in November 2021 in New York City, expanded to roles in web development, cloud practitioners, and digital marketing. The third group of nearly 50 apprentices, scheduled to begin in June 2022 in Irving, Texas, will include roles in data analytics and cybersecurity.

“We are looking to scale the program, but strategically. It is not a ‘grow at all costs’ method,” says West. “We are being specific about expanding to different skills that align to our strategic workforce plan and making sure that the organizations we chose are mature enough to absorb and develop these apprentices when they join.”

“Once the first cohort comes to completion in June 2022, we will have a really good idea of the total success and impact on the organization to help guide how we continue to scale,” he says. So far, survey results from first-cohort apprentices, coaches, and host managers have been overwhelmingly positive. Apprentices have a 100% attendance rate, 100% of apprentices report feeling that their coach uses their expertise to help apply what they’re learning to their current role, and 67% of apprentices are actively engaging with the apprentice community offered by Multiverse. (Verizon’s goal was 60% or higher.)

As apprentices graduate, Verizon hopes to extend offers to at least 90% of participants. “Assuming the apprentice has been successful, they have a full-time opportunity available for them at the end of that program to continue to grow their career and move forward from there,” says West.

“Exceptional talent is out there and, by broadening our outreach, we can help people realize their ambitions,” Hammock says. “When we give people the space and support to work to their full potential, we create a workforce ready for the future.”

Serena Kappes
Serena Kappes is a workforce expert who advises Ivy League graduates on how to connect with recruiters and break into their desired industries. She has worked with Korn Ferry, Acorns Securities, and MarketWatch.