How a new Nashville apprentice program got its roots in Amazon’s hometown

Originally published in the Nashville Business Journal

By Joel Stinnett

Technologists are in high demand by Nashville employers, and with the potential of Amazon’s HQ2 bringing another 50,000 high-tech job openings to town (should it choose Nashville), it doesn’t appear their will be a surplus of talent anytime soon.

To stem the tide, the Nashville Technology Council is preparing to launch a unique apprenticeship program first tested in Amazon’s hometown of Seattle.

ApprenTech Tennessee will allow employers to find talent in often overlooked segments of the population, while giving prospective employees free training and the guarantee of a higher-paying tech job.

The program has received an initial five-year $250,000 investment from Franklin-based 3-D Technology Group, NTC President and CEO Brian Moyer said, and about a dozen companies have already signed up for the program.

Moyer said that the single most talked about issue among the council’s members is lack of talent; despite the attractiveness of Nashville, employers can’t import enough to meet demand.

“Every city in the country is looking for tech talent,” Moyer said. “So, to think we can hire-in enough people to solve our talent needs isn’t realistic — we need to grow our own.”

People wanting to join the ApprenTech program take an online assessment quiz developed by the Washington Technology Industry Association for their apprenticeship program, known as Apprenti. The quiz doesn’t asses your technical knowledge; instead it tests your ability to learn and think critically.

Scores are ranked against one another and candidates are put through a standard interview process, creating a pool of potential candidates for employers to choose from. The only thing the employer receives is the candidate’s results and their initials.

“We’re trying to take away any unconscious bias that may exist in the hiring process,” Moyer said. “We’re kind of turning it upside down a bit.”

If an employer decides a candidate would be a good fit, they enter into a contract that guarantees the candidate a job with the company if they complete a three- to six-month paid accelerated training program

Once a candidate completes his or her accelerated training, they are assigned a mentor and receive one year of on-the-job training at a salary of 60 percent market rate for the position — rising to full market value after one year.

Christopher Martinez, CEO of 3-D and a board member at the council, said his company has recruited 40 employees from outside of Nashville in the past 24 months and has 25 current tech openings.

“If I make a bad hire it sets us back, but with this program someone might be what I call a ‘C’ player, but being able to get them trained and go through a year-long path we can make them ‘A’ players and fit the positions we need to fill,” Martinez said. “That’s how it’s really going to help us, being able to get those open positions closed quicker at a reduced cost for the first year.”

Moyer said he traveled to Seattle in December to learn more about their program which has been running for about a year, has more than 100 potential tech workers and 13 areas of training. While he was there he met with officials at Amazon, who along with Microsoft, was one of the early sponsors of the Washington program. He said he believes ApprenTech is part of the pitch to bring the online retail giant to Music City.

“If nothing else it shows we’re being proactive and we’re being innovative,” Moyer said. “We’re not just hoping that something’s going to change. We’re being innovative in trying to figure out how to grow our talent pool.”

ApprenTech is trying to raise a total of $1 million to launch the program in the second quarter of 2018 and fund it for its first three years.

In the beginning, the program will target an older demographic, Moyer said, and offer training in software development, network engineering and security specialists. He said in the future he hopes to offer more areas of training and target more recent high school graduates.

“I think there is plenty of potential employees in this town. Employers just need to start fishing in different ponds to find that talent,” Moyer said.