Bryan Reynolds | State Journal
Three local civil service apprentices updated Nicholas Wyman, CEO of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation, about their experiences with the new Kentucky program on Friday.
RayLang, Isaiah Dunlap and Dusty Barnes are all IT apprentices with the state. Lang and Barnes are apprentices through the Kentucky Cabinet of Transportation and Dunlap’s program is through the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet.
“Last May, we announced our effort at expanding apprenticeship into the civil service sector, so state and local government,” said Deborah Williamson, director of the Kentucky Registered Apprenticeship Program. “We had four agencies, three cabinets and one county judge-executive office, who said ‘yes we’d like to try it.’”
The program began with four occupations; IT technicians, a mechanic technician, office administration and direct support services, she explained.
“They took off like a rocket,” Williamson said. “Well beyond our wildest dream.”
The civil service apprenticeship program is an attempt to solve a problem many businesses and state agencies have been having with filling jobs with trained, skilled employees, she explained.
“There has been a problem, particularly in the private sector, where employers are almost putting promising projects on the shelf because they can’t find people with the skills they need,” Wyman said. “Apprenticeship is really where companies are engaging in designing and developing a program that is going to build a future labor pipeline.”
Robert Blystone, field service manager for the Transportation Cabinet (KYTC), said the IT apprenticeship program is 2,000 hours long. The state works closely with local school districts to recruit graduates who took an IT pathway during their high school education.
“At that point, we go through interviews and select candidates that would be a great fit,” he explained. “From there we get them introduced to our facilities, to our operations and help get them started understanding where they’re at as individuals and how we can build off of that skill set.”
Each IT apprentice had varying degrees of experience with IT when they began the program and different reasons for choosing the program.
Lang said he had some computer hardware knowledge before beginning his apprenticeship but the education he received in high school in Shelby County was limited because only one computer class was offered.
“Through that class, I was offered this and was told it was basically that class but more intense,” he said. “I was told I would learn more and would get more out of it. I jumped on the chance because I just wanted more opportunities to do this work.”
Barnes, on the other hand, took four years of IT learning operations and help desk support and customer support. He didn’t have much experience with the hardware side of IT though until the apprenticeship program.
“I actually heard about the apprenticeship program two weeks before my graduation and I was looking for something to do because I actually have a family,” Barnes said. “This opportunity has helped me support my family and better my education at the same time so I can hopefully have a better future.”
Wyman said the Kentucky registered apprenticeship programs, like the civil service program, are built around certain standards and interested in making them quality programs.
He explained apprenticeships give people the chance to learn a dual set of skills; technical and interpersonal. It’s something that sets apprenticeship experience apart from university learning, which tends to focus on the technical and information, he said.
“There are a lot of questions about college affordability so this idea you can get paid to learn is very attractive to a lot of people,” Wyman said. “You don’t have to take on huge debt and the advantaged after your 2,000 hours compared to someone who just left a classroom only environment is pretty powerful.”
Blystone said apprenticeship programs are by no means the beginning, middle and end of education but a stepping stone. When Lang, Barnes and Dunlap complete their internships they will have many options available to them.
Lang said he intends to continue working with computer hardware after completing his 2,000-hour apprenticeship.
I really enjoy doing hardware and messing with computers because it has all the technical bits but minus the complexity and troubleshooting that is programming and software,” he explained.
Barnes, who currently has 1,000 of his 2,000 hours complete, said he would like to continue working for the KYTC but also continue his IT education.
Dunlap said he is examining all of the options that will be available to him after completing the program.
“I would 100 percent to a friend or other person because it offers a great experience,” Barnes said. “Working with the company that you plan on working for allows you to be a lot better prepared for their workforce.”