Episode 277: How Apprenticeships Support Diversity & Inclusion

More and more companies are discovering a proven strategy for building a highly-skilled workforce to grow and to thrive: apprenticeship programs. Combining classroom instruction with on-the-job training, apprenticeship programs can help your company bring new and more diverse talent into the workplace. 

Episode 277: How Apprenticeships Support Diversity & Inclusion with Jennifer Carlson (@JenniferCarlson) from WTIA Workforce Institute

This episode of the Workology Podcast is part of a new podcast series powered by the Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship (PIA). PIA is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). In November, ODEP launched PIA to ensure all apprenticeship programs are inclusive and accessible to people with disabilities. 

PIA collaborates with employers and apprenticeship programs to help meet employer talent needs and enable people with disabilities to benefit from apprenticeships that increase their opportunities for lifelong access to high-growth, high-demand jobs.

I spoke to Jennifer Carlson, Executive Director of WTIA Workforce Institute. Apprenti is a program of the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) Workforce Institute and provides a proven, reliable pipeline for connecting underrepresented groups including people of color, women, and veterans to the necessary training and hands-on skills needed to be successful in the talent-hungry tech industry.

Jennifer began her career in the insurance space, as a business owner and leader for tech products. “As the rare woman at the table when it came to the executive ranks, it was frustrating to see so little diversity and opportunity at that senior level. When I came to Seattle I had an opportunity to get into tech directly so I went to work for the trade association to get a better understanding of the sector. It was clear to me that the problem I was seeing in insurance and other sectors was exponentially greater in tech.”

Once she settled in Seattle, Jennifer said, “I had the opportunity to look at what organizations across the country were doing in this space and apprenticeships seemed to be a foundational way to build a scalable system that each organization was doing some version of, but not collectively. We needed something that could scale at a national level.”

I asked about Apprenti’s role as an apprenticeship intermediary organization (or AIO). Jennifer explained, “Our role is to facilitate the development of apprenticeship within companies. We’re a company-focused product to bridge the access to qualified tech talent, to solve for other problems that companies may have and support them for things like government compliance.”

“Our focus [with Apprenti] was on underrepresented minorities, women, and veterans…that’s where we started the program. Women are 19-21% of the tech sector, but we’re 50% of the workforce…so this is about creating a more welcoming environment – and ultimately creating alternate pathways for people of color who have degrees and maybe weren’t considered, and the subset of almost 11% of people with disabilities. This wasn’t originally a target, but partnering with PIA helps us help companies understand what accommodation looks like.”

Why Apprenticeships Are Important Right Now

Inclusive apprenticeship programs can help employers train their future workforce. Jennifer said “We can’t create enough talent out of the traditional university ranks. We’re graduating approximately 75,000 people a year from computer science degrees, which is the first line of defense where companies go for talent. On average, there are 3 million jobs posted in tech every year. Investing in creating new talent is actually more effective and less costly, and it creates a more loyal workforce for companies that are making this investment.”

“All companies are tech companies and they’re all competing for tech talent.” - Jennifer Carlson #Apprenti #ApprenticeshipPrograms #WorkologyPodcast Click To Tweet

I asked Jennifer how apprenticeships help with D&I efforts. “There is unity in diversity. The idea that we all don’t have to have the same mechanical background to do the work is a proof point of apprenticeship in which we create new ways to look at the world and create an inclusive environment.”

“Inclusivity on the company’s side is as much about diversity as it is about making space for people who don’t have a traditional education to integrate with teams. This has been called out by a lot of employers now as the place they have had to focus energy on inclusivity around the diversity or difference in educational attainment.”

Working remotely is offering so many opportunities to people in many different ways, and we’re discovering that people with disabilities who work from home know what accommodations they need for their specific disability. Jennifer said that “apprenticeship creates the door opening for people to acquire the skills and experience they need to be competitive…and to do so we need to remove the barriers. PWD are the highest unemployed population and frequently overlooked in the country. Economic mobility is a huge positive in apprenticeship, broadly speaking. The median income coming into our program [Apprenti] is $38k without benefits, frequently in service industry jobs, and the median income during apprenticeship is $56k plus benefits. We have an 85% retention rate and the salary at the end of the apprenticeship is $80k.”

These are life-changing numbers for individuals and families. “As incredible as those numbers are, they are also predicated by geographic location. We may see a future with remote work be slightly less, but it still creates a huge opportunity for career advancement and earning,” said Jennifer.

When apprenticeship programs are inclusive of people with disabilities, from different educational backgrounds and from underrepresented groups, the value of the on-the-job training model is magnified. That’s because disability is an important dimension of workforce diversity and inclusion—and people with disabilities are an untapped talent pool. 

Listen to the entire podcast to hear about business cases for apprenticeships, how HR leaders can start a dialogue around apprenticeship programs at their companies, and how reaching untapped talent pools can create opportunities around diversity and inclusion. Thank you to Jennifer for sharing her knowledge and perspective on the podcast.

Connect with Jennifer Carlson


Jennifer Carlson on LinkedIn



– Inclusive Apprenticeship Programs

Episode 271: How Apprenticeships Help People with Disabilities Find Work

Episode 264: Partnership on Inclusive Apprenticeship (PIA) with Vinz Koller

Episode Transcript


How to Subscribe to the Workology Podcast


Stitcher | PocketCast | iTunes | Podcast RSS | Google Play | YouTube | TuneIn


Find out how to be a guest on the Workology Podcast.

Posted in

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.


Pin It on Pinterest