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Adult Apprentices offer Great Career Opportunities for Black Hoosiers

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More than two dozen Hoosiers – more than 50 percent of them Black – are currently working as apprentices at companies like Allegion, Cummins and Eli Lilly and Company through the TechPoint’s Adult Apprenticeship program. Program organizers say there’s no limit on how many more Hoosiers could join the program to start life-changing careers, and they want to bring more into the fold. 

“We’re really limited only by the number of positions we have available for them, and we are always looking for more employers to participate,” says Malik Laffoon, program coordinator for Advancing Equity through Tech, (AETT) a joint program among TechPoint, the Indianapolis Urban League and InnoPower

The AETT program is open to Hoosiers who are 18-years-old or older, with a household income lower than $40,000 per year, have U.S. work authorization, can demonstrate technical competency, with an aptitude for accelerated growth and are commitment to learning. After being vetted by TechPoint, they submit a profile outlining their technical competencies and continue to skill up through free online learning tools while they await employer interest.   

Under the overall program, apprentices work for a year, honing their skills and learning how to work in a tech career, not just a job. Ideally, at the end of their year, they have an opportunity to be hired on as full-time professionals.  The AETT portion focuses on bringing Black Hoosier into the program. 

Laffoon said the current group of apprentices come from all walks of life and age groups.  Some had been working in low-paying fast-food or retail sector jobs and believed they didn’t qualify for anything else. Some are parents whose family obligations kept them from the workforce. Some struggled to earn GEDs or stopped at high school diplomas. Some were in jobs that paid the bills week-to-week but didn’t offer advancement or hope of significant wage increases. Some had taken a few tech certification classes but remained unsure of their abilities. Some had no tech training at all. Some had chips on their shoulders because they’d seen others take advantage of opportunities that didn’t seem available to everyone else.   

“What they all have in common, though, was a willingness to place a bet on themselves that given a chance, they could change the trajectory of their lives and that of their families,” he said. 

Adult apprenticeships are something relatively new to the U.S. tech sector though they’ve long been in place in other countries. Here, most apprentices are in the construction trades and it’s only been in the past few years that the tech industry has started to embrace them as a great way to develop talent.   

Emil Ekiyor, CEO of InnoPower, said Indiana employers should be breaking down doors to offer apprenticeship programs. 

“Studies show that apprentices have higher retention rates than employees hired through traditional pipelines,” he said. “Nearly 80 percent of apprentices in the program TechPoint uses are rated high-performers by managers. So, these are great people who given a chance will repay that with great work and loyalty to the organization. This is a great way to grow your own talent.” 

Ekiyor and Laffoon pointed to two examples of apprentices who are succeeding because of the program and their own initiative.  

Drake Crossley was looking to transition from his job in real estate and had heard about the potential the tech sector offered. He had already obtained two Cisco certifications that gave him a broad understanding of part of the data world and then he heard about the apprenticeship program at Cummins.   

He wasn’t the most technically certified candidate the innovative engine company interviewed, but was selected as their very first apprentice because of his passion and his demonstrated willingness to work.  

Crossley’s advice: “Don’t let your background or your education be a deterrent. If you are willing to do some self-study, there are plenty of opportunities to sharpen your skills and network. Take on those opportunities as much as possible!” he said. “I can relate it to being a translator; if you were in a different country and needed to get around, you wouldn’t ask the residents their what their degree is. In tech, there are many languages. Take it upon yourself to learn those languages and become a translator for others. Connect the worlds that don’t currently have a bridge.”  

Jefrie Polanco is an apprentice at Allegion.  

Polanco was driven by responsibility to support his family. He had the tech skills but low confidence in his abilities and imposter syndrome kept him from taking that first step into a role in the tech industry. That changed when he was paired up with Allegion.   

“The most rewarding part is being acknowledged by my peers,” he said. “I had a huge block coming in with imposter syndrome. I just didn’t think I fit in. I didn’t think I was good enough. So, it just kept me away from speaking up, once I realized the work I was doing was actually contributing to the team to the point that I was getting praise, it made me realized that maybe I do fit in here, maybe this is a good fit, as far as the imposter syndrome goes because I know I belong here but that is still something I have to battle that because it is still new for me. But getting that acknowledgement from my peers has definitely been the most rewarding part.”   

Neither Crossley nor Polanco are typical apprentices because there is no “typical” apprentice. Each are very different, which, he says, should encourage all kinds of people to participate in the program. 

Employers interested in learning more about these amazing apprenticeship candidates should reach out to my colleague Losalind Connell  

Those interested in becoming an apprentice should complete TechPoint’s Participant Interest Form.