Many veterans face a frustrating catch-22 upon exiting the military: Most jobs require experience, but it’s almost impossible to get experience without a job.

That’s where a program like Apprenti comes in. It removes the burden of experience and education by immediately placing qualifying veterans in relatively well-paying technology apprenticeships, where they will learn the skills required to succeed in the industry.

“A lot of those who come to us are not prepared to go back to college for four more years and use their GI Bill that way,” said Jennifer Carlson, executive director of both Apprenti and the Washington Technology Industry Association Workforce Institute, based in the state of Washington.

“They want to go to a job,” she continued. “This is a great transition point with a much more accelerated time investment to a career.”

It’s a simple process: Veterans take a free online assessment that tests them on both basic math abilities and soft skills like leadership qualities and critical thinking. They have two tries to pass it and must wait three months before trying again if they don’t.

Once they pass, the top one-third of candidates will be offered interviews at tech companies including but not limited to industry giants like Microsoft and Amazon. They will stay in this apprenticeship — earning a median salary of $51,000 per year, plus benefits — for a minimum of one year, and if all goes well, they will be offered a permanent job upon graduation.

The program is GI Bill-eligible, so veterans will be able to use the benefit to pay for living expenses. And some of the larger companies Apprenti places candidates in are even willing to help out with university tuition for veterans seeking a more formal education once they are hired on full-time.

According to Carlson, 85 percent of the participants Apprenti places are retained by the company with which they did their apprenticeship. She also said that 46 percent of placements begin the program without a degree of any kind, but they still land jobs with titles like software developer and system administrator.

“These are middle-skills jobs, not entry-level ones like a help desk,” she said. “These are jobs that have natural career progressions, and you’re going to grow with your company.”

These apprenticeships are different from internships, which usually require affiliation with a university, only last about three to five months and tend to be less focused on doing one specific job.

None of that applies to these apprenticeships, which are open to anyone 18-and-over, last at least a year and ensure you receive training in the role in which the company hopes to retain you.

“You are a hire. You are in that job. The company is paying you a training wage, which is where you get to earn and learn,” Carlson said. “Internship is try-before-you-buy, and apprenticeships are train-to-retain.”

A group of Apprenti participants pose in 2017 before they embark on their one-year apprenticeships with Amazon's web-services division. (Photo provided by Apprenti)
A group of Apprenti participants pose in 2017 before they embark on their one-year apprenticeships with Amazon's web-services division. (Photo provided by Apprenti)

Apprenti has only been around since late 2016, but Carlson said that the number of graduates these companies keep has already grown from a “handful or two” to the hundreds. She expects to place over 450 apprentices in tech jobs around the country in 2019.

Carlson said that 58 percent of Apprenti placements are veterans, many of who are feeling stuck, despite often having professional experience and some education.

“When we look at where competency lies, you have a lot of people who choose to go to second-tier colleges and who are working while in school,” Carlson said. “They have skills, they did the college thing, they just didn’t do STEM. So they have the competency to do the work, but they have no pathway in, short of going back to school and taking on that debt.”

The other part of this equation is the boon to the tech sector, which Carlson described as being severely understaffed across the board. She said that the industry currently has 2 million vacancies, yet only 65,000 students a year are graduating with the necessary computer-science degrees to fill those roles.

Through her experience with the group based in Washington state, Carlson determined that tech companies were reeling both from this labor shortage and a lack of “people who were actually work-ready coming to them, which they didn’t feel many college students were.”

Enter Apprenti.

“Our thesis is that we can find highly competent people, without regard to pedigree,” Carlson said.

So, if you’re a veteran unsure what to do next and are interested in tech jobs — or just want to find work with benefits that could pay a median annual salary of $78,000 after a year of on-the-job training — Apprenti might be exactly what you need to jump-start a new career.