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Washington's First Tech Apprenticeship Connects Employers To Workers

Simone Alicea
Governor Jay Inslee gives newly minted tech apprentice Roscoe Bass a pin.

Apprenticeships are common in sectors like building and manufacturing, but now Washington state is trying to apply the model to the tech industry.

The first cohort of 41 apprentices were pinned by Governor Jay Inslee in a ceremony Friday honoring the state's only registered tech apprenticeship program called Apprenti.

The typical pathway for jobs in the tech industry tends to stem from four-year universities and coding schools. People complete those programs hoping to come out with the necessary skills to be recruited by companies like Microsoft and Amazon.

"What we're really beginning to learn as an industry is we can't just recruit; we have to invest in the development of the workforce to have a sustainable growth in the future," said Michael Schutzler, CEO of the Washington Technology Industry Association, which runs the program.

The goal is to address two problems in the tech industry. First, the state has thousands of tech jobs that need to be filled, according to the WTIA. The second goal is to attract a more diverse workforce.

The year-long program includes a few months of training before apprentices begin working full time with their companies. 

Roscoe Bass, 35, is an apprentice who will be working at Microsoft in the next few months. He said he is excited to work on some of the Redmond-based company's most well-known products from the Windows 10 operating system to the Xbox One.

Bass is a Navy veteran who has had trouble finding a civilian career. One of the big draws of Apprenti was the fact that he doesn't have to pay for the initial training with Code Fellows.

"To learn how to code, to learn how to become a software developer -- a school that normally takes four years to do -- that sounds amazing to me," Bass said.

The first cohort will not pay tuition for those classes. Apprenti is currently funded through grants and partnerships, but future apprentices and employers may eventually pay into the program.

The WTIA was recently awarded a grant to expand the program nationwide.

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.