US economy

Want a White-Collar Career Without College Debt? Become an Apprentice

“It almost sounded too good to be true, getting paid to study,” she said.

She did not get into the program the first time but was accepted in the following cohort. After three months of classes by Techtonic, she is now apprenticing at one of its clients, building software for the music industry.

Heather Terenzio, founder and chief executive of Techtonic, said she had started the apprenticeship program as a cost-effective way to find local talent. She initially hired developers in Armenia but found communication challenging. Ms. Terenzio, a civil engineer who learned to code after college, realized that none of the senior managers had computer science degrees.

“We had this theory of, ‘I wonder if we could find passionate local people and teach them what we were doing,’” she said. Hundreds of people have graduated from the program since it registered with the Labor Department in 2016, she said. About 85 percent have been hired by Techtonic or its clients.

Some employers establish apprenticeship programs as a way to boost diversity. Others do it to create a pipeline of future employees for hard-to-fill positions who will remain loyal to the company that trained them. The Hartford, an insurance company, began working with community colleges in 2015 to offer students the chance to spend their summers handling customer’s calls. So far, about 80 have been hired full-time.

“Insurance isn’t something that people aspire to do,” said John Kinney, chief claims officer, who oversees about 7,000 employees. “You take a student who was in a two-year program in a community college who may be the first person in their family to work in a corporate environment, and seeing them succeed has been really gratifying to watch.”

Even in the field of law, apprenticeship programs are cropping up. In California, people can become lawyers by apprenticing for four years under an experienced attorney or judge and fulfilling other requirements, including passing the California bar. The number of people seeking to take this path jumped from 69 applicants in 2017 to 147 this year, according to the State Bar of California. Some of the interest is due to the media personality Kim Kardashian, who is trying to become a lawyer this way. But there is a larger movement afoot to make legal careers more affordable, said Rachel Johnson-Farias, the founding director of Esq. Apprentice, a new program that provides mentoring and cost-of-living assistance to legal apprentices.

Ms. Johnson-Farias, who earned a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley, said she aims to increase the number of lawyers serving low-income communities by helping black and Latina women pass the bar without taking on crushing debt. One of the program’s participants, Lauren Richardson, a 33-year-old freelance media producer, said her dreams of law school were derailed when lack of funds forced her to drop out of community college.


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