CNM, IT firms partner on apprenticeships

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Roberto E. Rosales/Journal CNM has just launched a new IT apprenticeship program with a $3 million federal grant through which students can be hired for paid year-long internships with companies such as Rural Sourcing inc. in downtown Albuquerque. Pictured are CNM students Eduardo Vazquez, left, and Spencer Nichols, background, working on a project.

Come January, the first students enlisted in Central New Mexico Community College’s new information technology apprenticeship program will be headed to jobs at three local firms.

Rural Sourcing Inc., Abba Technologies and Unity BPO all have signed commitments to hire their first apprentices early next year through the program, which CNM announced in fall 2015 after receiving a $3 million U.S. Department of Labor grant. The program will allow students to immediately begin paid, full-time positions at participating companies while receiving classroom instruction, coaching and mentorship.

CNM expects a dozen more companies to sign on in coming months. It aims to place 300 students in apprenticeships by 2020, said program director director Sue Buffington.

“This is the first registered information technology apprenticeship program in New Mexico,” Buffington said. “We just got our program standards approved by the State Apprenticeship Council, allowing us to move forward.”

The college spent the past year preparing the program. It held an all-day information workshop with about 20 local companies on Friday.

The program will provide Unity BPO, which offers IT-related services to the health industry, a new pipeline of employees, said CEO Steve Wade.

“On a monthly basis, we generally have 25-30 positions open,” Wade said.

For Rural Sourcing, a Georgia-based IT services company that opened an Albuquerque office last year, the program can boost its plans to hire 130 new employees in the next two years.

“We’ve committed to taking on our first apprentices in January and see how it works,” said Paige Briggs, RSI Albuquerque development center director. “We’d like to take on as many as we can.”

Employers pay all apprentice wages and benefits. CNM provides classroom training and materials free to students and pays for end-of-program certification exams.

Apprenticeships are year-long commitments. Apprentices start at lower wages but climb to normal entry-level salaries as they achieve established goals.

The program is part of the federal government’s American Apprenticeship Grants initiative, which provided $175 million last fall to 46 participating institutions.

Experience elsewhere shows most participating employers hire program graduates after apprenticeships end.

“Retention rates are very high nationally,” Buffington said.

Some companies will help current employees grow their skills through the program.

“We have existing entry-level people who are already working with us but they’re not getting ahead,” said Abba Technologies chief financial and operating officer Judie Youngman. “This is a structured way for them to advance.”

Program participants said the apprenticeships will help strengthen New Mexico’s IT workforce.

“This will compliment efforts to grow Albuquerque’s technology sector,” said Serah Tyler, RSI human resources and recruitment manager. “It can help New Mexico become more recognized as an IT industry hub.”

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