21 January, 2019
While Enrique Rico was growing up in Washington State, his mother cleaned the homes of people employed at Microsoft Corporation.
On days when he was was too sick for school, he joined his mother when she went to work. And soon, he would dream of having the life of a technology worker.
Now, at age 26, Rico is creating computer software programs at Avvo, an online marketplace for legal services. Yet he did not finish college. And he had no former experience in subjects like science, technology, engineering or mathematics.
However, Rico did complete a program called Apprenti. It provides education and on-the-job training for tech jobs to non-traditional trainees.
"I never really thought I could do it. But once I dug deep, I gave it my all," Rico told Reuters news agency.
The Apprenti program is a project of the Washington Technology Industry Association with the United States Department of Labor. It operates at around 50 companies across the country. They include businesses such as Microsoft, Amazon and JPMorgan Chase.
In 2017, in Apprenti's first year, 76 candidates received training. The program is not easy. Candidates must complete about 400 to 780 classroom hours in just 12 weeks.
After a year of on-the-job training, the program placed 330 Apprenti graduates at full-time jobs. The class of 2019 is expected to produce 700 graduates.
Tammy Thieman works at Amazon. She told Reuters that the company is likely to accept up to 1,000 graduates in the next few years. Right now, it has 150.
The tech industry had 2.8 million job openings last year. Half of them were middle-level jobs that do not require a college education. That information comes from Jennifer Carlson, executive director of Apprenti.
Hiring in the technology industry is slow, however, because companies cannot find workers with the right training, she said.
Apprenti offers most of its training to women, minority groups and military veterans. It will choose its 700 candidates for 2019 from a group of 2,000.
Amazon teamed up with Apprenti after its founder, Jeff Bezos, made a promise to hire 25,000 veterans and husbands and wives of armed forces members by 2021. But the program has quickly grown to find skilled workers for many kinds of open jobs.
While veterans often have valuable skills, they usually do not have workplace experience. That is why the biggest barrier currently for veterans is being underemployed when they leave the armed forces, said Chris Newsome. He is with a company called RecruitMilitary.
"A lot of these men and women are able to find jobs, but not necessarily careers," Newsome said.
But even new university graduates often need to complete a program like Apprenti because computer languages change so quickly.
Training at universities or community colleges also can be ineffective in preparing students for jobs which require special certification, Apprenti's Carlson said.
Even boot camps for computer programming are not always effective. Rico tried that path first, resigning from his $16.50-an-hour job as a salesperson at an Apple Store to go into a boot camp.
But without a college education, he could not compete against other tech job seekers.
For smaller companies like Avvo, Apprenti is more of a calling.
"The executives saw the value of a program that gets you talented engineers and does a social good," said Hunter Davis of Avvo.
The company currently has about 25-30 software developers, with about 15 percent of them coming through Apprenti.
The training helps Apprenti graduates right away. Like Rico, many of them had worked low-paying jobs, earning about $28,000 a year. The starting salary in the Apprenti program is $45,000 during training.
At six months, when candidates begin on-the-job training, the pay rises to $51,000 a year. If they get hired full-time - and almost all of them do - Apprenti graduates can earn at least $75,000.
Those kind of earnings can change the lives of most of the participants.
"I have an apartment and a dog and a cat," said Rico, who is still dreaming. "I'd love to get married and have kids and buy a house. I want to be my own boss. I would love to start my own company."
I'm Alice Bryant. And I'm Pete Musto.
Beth Pinsker reported this story for the Reuters news agency. Alice Bryant adapted her report for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
software – n. the programs that run on a computer and perform certain functions
online – adj. done over the Internet
graduate – n. a person who has earned a degree or diploma from a school, college, or university
hire – v. to give work or a job to someone in exchange for wages or a salary
veteran – n. someone who fought in a war as a member of the armed forces
salary – n. an amount of money that an employee is paid each year
boss – n. the person whose job is to tell other workers what to do