Talent Management Column

Redefining the Student/Apprentice Model

There are more than a few reasons why CapGemini's United Kingdom initiative combining academic and real-work experience for recent high-school grads could gain traction elsewhere.

Monday, June 15, 2015
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One of the big challenges for high-school grads (and their parents) is: What options do these young adults have for landing a job if they don't go to college? There are probably a lot of kids who go to college who don't really want to, may not be ready to, or may not be able to find a good alternative.

So, here's a fascinating story about CapGemini, the huge Paris-based IT and consulting company.

As with many other companies, it faces a tight labor market for IT talent coming out of college-in part, because IT skills will be most in demand in four years or so and, when new technologies are hot, everyone wants them at once. 

So CapGemini decided to grow its own talent, starting with those just graduating from high school. It probably wouldn't be that difficult to do the same with college grads. (Some of those art and literature majors, at some point, would be glad to have a job that gives them some real-world training.) But the company concluded that it is even cheaper and better to do it with high-school grads. 

There is a little bit of a catch here: The program got going in the United Kingdom, where there is a national apprenticeship initiative in which employers hire young people for four days per week and, on the fifth day, the "apprentices" have some kind of classroom experience. 

What CapGemini decided to do was send them to college for that fifth day. During the week, they are learning basic IT skills and doing real work, i.e., a classic apprenticeship. On the fifth day, they are going to college and learning more academic IT knowledge.

CapGemini worked with Aston University to develop a bachelor degree program in IT that would be delivered to these apprentices at the CapGemini worksite-thereby obviating the need to travel to a campus. Rather than the usual three-year British degree, this one takes five years. But for the students, the education is free because it's paid for by the company. And they are being paid while they go to college for the other four days of work.

Why does this work for the company? Let's count the ways. 

First, while we might think the most promising high-school students will go directly to a university, they can't all go, and some would rather have another alternative. The company is only looking for a handful, and, at this point in time, there is little competition for the diamonds in the rough it does find.

Second, the initiative improves retention. The student/apprentices have an incentive to stay in the program until they graduate. This works for the university as well, because it wants to have students who will stay until the degree's completion.

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Third, the company can grow the kind of workers with the kind of specific skills it wants. And the price is right. Compared to hiring college grads with IT skills, these student/apprentices are downright cheap.

Meanwhile, for the students, this is an experience that makes them highly marketable by giving them a college degree in IT AND five years of practical IT experience. Yes, CapGemini will probably lose some of them to other employers, but, for those five years, it will be getting some real value from them.

Infrastructure provided by the U.K. government, of course, helped to make this program happen. But here's the interesting thing : The program has worked so well that CapGemini is now bringing it to the United States.

Peter Cappelli is the George W. Taylor Professor of Management and director of the Center for Human Resources at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. His latest book is Why Good People Can't Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It.


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