HITS offers apprenticeship program for aspiring IT professionals

January 10, 2019  //  FOUND IN: News,

Lousayni Benson was one of the first hires made by Michigan Medicine’s new Service Desk Apprenticeship Program.

Apprenticeships are typically associated with the skilled trades. For instance, you might first think of a plumber or electrician apprentice. Or maybe a welder or carpenter.

But that convention is changing, and a recent apprenticeship program created by Michigan Medicine and Washtenaw Community College to help attract and train aspiring information technology professionals is advancing the cause.

Michigan Medicine’s recently-launched Service Desk Apprenticeship Program pays entry-level candidates to serve a one-year apprenticeship in front-line technology support, receiving extensive on-the-job training and formal technical coursework at WCC in the process. Five new apprentices joined the program earlier this week.

At the end of the program, apprentices receive a U.S. Department of Labor journeyman’s card, earn a 16-credit Computer Systems Technology certificate from WCC and emerge with a deep knowledge of the IT architecture of a world-renowned medical center. The WCC coursework is paid for by the program.

“Our apprenticeship programs are still primarily focused on manufacturing, but it’s really spreading out into all different areas,” said Marilyn Donham, WCC’s dean of apprenticeships. “IT apprenticeships aren’t brand new, but Michigan Medicine was the first organization that asked my team to help them create one.”

Expanding apprenticeships to more occupations has become a popular suggestion for creating career opportunities for individuals and closing the skills gap that hinders employers from finding qualified candidates.

Exploring different ways to find job candidates is what led Jarrod Sandel to WCC.

Sandel manages the Service Desk for Michigan Medicine’s Health Information Technology & Services (HITS). The Service Desk is responsible for handling more than 250,000 IT-related contacts (calls, online submissions and walk-ins) each year while operating in an industry that averages 40-percent annual turnover.

“Apprenticeship has been a proven model for hundreds of years,” Sandel said, noting that the training model dates back to the days of blacksmiths and leather workers. “This is not a new concept. It’s just a novel, new approach to a more modern job.”

Lousayni Benson is an apprentice who was recently hired full-time from the program. The 29-year-old Detroit native moved back to Michigan after working at an Amazon distribution center in Ohio, where he was exposed to some IT-related work that interested him.

“I wanted to complete my education, but I also needed a job,” Benson said. “When I saw this job placement at Michigan Medicine, it was basically like going back to school and having it paid for. Finishing this program was a great accomplishment.”

And, considering the impetus for Sandel to create the program in the first place, career advancement opportunities aren’t likely going to be an issue for the apprentices.

“It’s hard to keep people because they become familiar with a broad collection of technology and become super attractive for other people both in my IT department and in other IT departments across southeast Michigan,” Sandel said. “To try to keep people in these seats is very difficult and to be able to provide a program that helps to retain them was even more difficult. So, creating this program was the right choice for us and the right choice for the organization. We’re excited for our new group of apprentices and excited to see where the program goes from here.”