A New Look at an Old Practice
How apprenticeships are spurring creativity in hiring and business.
Image source: Adobe Stock.
by Liz Lowe
posted on 04-29-2019
When you think of a successful job candidate for careers in the tech world, who do you imagine? A top-tier business school or computer science graduate with internships and career experience? Or could you imagine someone who moved to San Francisco after being shot six times, without a job or place to stay? What about someone whose dream job has always been to work in tech, but they stayed home for eight years to raise their kids first, often hovering just above the poverty line?
These are not merely hypothetical job candidates. I’m an example of the first type of candidate — I grew up in Silicon Valley and was lucky enough to have lots of opportunities to find my way to Adobe’s Brand Purpose team. And the two other candidate examples above are both successful Adobe employees, Archy Posada and Amy Scoville. Their hiring managers and teams agree that they both contribute wickedly creative problem-solving skills, unparalleled resourcefulness, and a strong work ethic. And finding candidates like Archy and Amy, who can draw on diverse experiences to solve problems, can be a huge asset to a company that is constantly adapting to the new frontier of technology and possibilities. Surprisingly, these job candidates for the new tech world can come from an old model of job training: apprenticeships.
The apprenticeship model
Developed in the later Middle Ages, apprenticeships are among the oldest qualification in the world and are familiar to us for their connection to a more traditional model of training — perhaps a seamstress learning to hand sew clothing, or a woodworker who studies to learn the craft. In today’s tech world, the concept of apprenticeship has largely been focused on internships for university graduates. Companies often expect many candidates to be fully prepared when they apply to an open job, and hiring managers look for resumes that show a depth of experience accompanied by top credentials.
And these same companies are also expecting employees to have creativity and diversity of thought to provide innovation. Thinking outside the box on the hiring process using apprenticeship programs means that workers can be trained right before they start their job, and on the job, and then draw on their varied backgrounds to think creatively and solve pressing problems.
Adobe Digital Academy
Adobe’s Digital Academy is helping retrain nontraditional “career-switcher” candidates for highly technical positions — from veterans to refugees to single moms. It’s a three-part program consisting of 1) education or training, 2) on-the-job experience, and 3) a full-time role. We provide candidates with scholarships and living stipends to help them gain an education for a new career, and then we bring them on board as apprentices with the goal of helping them gain full-time employment at Adobe or another company. The program was built using design thinking with hiring managers and participants as the central “customer” to determine needs — what training is most useful to participants, and what do hiring managers need to develop an even stronger team?
The Digital Academy has provided real-world benefits for Adobe and its teams. By using the Adobe Digital Academy to bring talented people from a variety of backgrounds into our engineering and design teams, we’ve been better able to create products that our diverse global customers want and need. We’ve also seen enhanced team morale, as the new apprentices and full-time employees bring energy to our teams. Long-time employees find new purpose in mentorship and team-building roles, and graduates enthusiastically commit to making the most of their new opportunities. We’ve seen a 96% retention rate for Digital Academy hires, and half have been promoted within their first year on staff. And many of the bright, motivated people in our program come from under-resourced communities. Our academy graduates significantly boost their earning potential, and that brings economic benefits and opportunities to their families and communities as well. The annual pay increase for an Adobe Digital Academy hire can range from $30K to $100K. This initial success of our program is getting noticed, as the Adobe Digital Academy was recently included as an Honorable Mention in Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Awards.
Apprenticeships beyond Adobe
The apprenticeship model isn’t just being used at Adobe, either. Recently, the Bay Area Council hosted its Workforce of the Future Committee meeting, bringing together talented leaders from across industries to discuss bringing the old model of apprenticeships to the current workforce. The committee leverages employer leadership to strengthen talent pipelines throughout the region, seeking to build a more inclusive economy in the process. Companies from widely ranging industries, including airlines, healthcare, and transit, are using apprenticeship models to widen their thinking on the hiring process. Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is using this model in partnership with community colleges to train technicians on skill sets needed specifically for work on BART trains. San Francisco Mayor London Breed built a program to retrain shuttle drivers into bus drivers, of which the city has a large shortage. Companies and organizations working together collaboratively on apprenticeships and new training models will help build the workforce of the future faster than any company could do alone.
Attracting diverse candidates and collaborating with industries are both pillars of Adobe’s diversity and inclusion efforts — they are key elements for how we continue to shape the future of Adobe – and you can build a new hiring model, too. Who wants to partner with Adobe to work together to build apprenticeship programs into your own industry? Here are four ways to get involved:
Reach out to us for advice or ideas on implementing your own apprenticeship program by emailing us at
Share your tips with us on your company’s apprenticeship model by commenting on this blog post.
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Topics: Diversity & Inclusion, Sustainability