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Why we’ve started an apprenticeship program

This week SafeStack welcomes three software development apprentices to our team. This is a huge moment for our tiny company and one I’m so very humbled to be able to share.

I hear a lot of rhetoric about creating pathways to industry and how important it is. I also hear about our leaking talent pipeline and how we need to do more.

I also see many companies fail to act, perhaps waiting for the perfect time or until they’re bigger.

For us, we don’t want to wait for the perfect time or some time in the future to help bring up others.

Just as we’ve done for the last seven years, we’ll keep finding ways to support others, grow a diverse team, and give back to the community and ecosystem that supported us when we needed it most.

Before explaining what our apprentice program offers, I need to share a personal story.

Obligatory origin story

It was late 2000, and I was almost 17. Like most teenagers, I was at high school, aiming for university, and generally pushing for my own version of the stars. I’d picked out several potential degrees and was set on a career in languages and law, dreaming of going to Central Europe and working for the United Nations… until I wasn’t.

Like many young people, I found myself caught up in family health issues and fending for myself without warning. My little, well-planned world collapsed and I found myself alone.

Faced with bills to pay and a need to keep myself fed and housed, I took a job at a local bowling alley, spraying the shoes with disinfectant between customers. It wasn’t glamorous but it paid the bills and for a short while, I even managed to keep studying for a few hours a week.

But it was hard and before long, I became trapped. Bills kept piling up. As an independent young adult, I couldn’t keep trying to maintain that everything was going to plan. So I dropped out of my studies and I found myself stuck. It didn’t matter what potential I’d previously shown. Now I was just another young person without a plan or options.

By pure luck, I found out about a local technology company offering software development apprenticeships.

EDS (later purchased by HP) had an established program in my hometown that took young folk like me, supporting them over four years while they learned their trade and earned National Vocational Qualifications.

I’d never heard of these apprenticeships before, never seen them advertised anywhere. I found out about them thanks to a regular customer at my bowling alley job, who gave me a tip-off and a not-so-subtle nudge to apply.

That was 22 years ago. Just writing that makes me feel old.

Opportunities don’t just appear, they have to be created and encouraged

For young people who, like me, find themselves in a difficult situation or without the support that enables them to follow their dreams via traditional pathways, the world can seem hard and small. I owe a lot to the man who nudged me toward my apprenticeship and even more to the scheme itself.

Apprenticeships can give so many opportunities and gifts to people.

  • Actual paid employment in a specific career or field
  • Support to study for qualifications
  • Help to improve human skills like confidence, communication, and negotiation
  • Contacts and friends that remain with you throughout your career.

In my intake in early 2001, there were 21 new apprentices across a 3,000-person company. I was the youngest by four years and the first girl they’d ever taken.

Now it’s my turn to give back

SafeStack has many ambitions but hidden amongst them is the desire to reach down and support people at the early stages of their careers, creating pathways that enable people from diverse backgrounds to take alternative paths into our industry.

Our apprenticeship program is now underway

In honor of the help I was given, SafeStack now offers a structured three-year software development apprenticeship.

We offer our apprentices the following:

  • Good starting pay, so the stress of taking the role is reduced ($60k NZD)
  • Three years of support, experience, and training to get them from where they are now to where they want to be in their engineering career
  • Structured pay increases over the three years so they’re rewarded as they increase their skills 
  • A job at the end, if they want to stay with us.

Our first cohort is from Northland, New Zealand, with two women and one man representing a range of cultures, ages, backgrounds, and circumstances. Maybe they will let me talk about them more later, but that will be for them to decide.

If you also have a story to share or, like me, you’ve been helped in ways that go beyond just words — perhaps you can also make a pathway?