HCLT’s groundbreaking apprenticeship initiative: Long-term vision, near-term effects

In the battle for talent, prepare for the long war

Recruit, retain and train. Every IT services vendor over the past couple of years has been pulling every lever to find, manage and reward talent in a chaotic market in which new competitors and newly empowered professionals have spiked attrition across the board and strained HR staffs as never seen before. The pandemic brought about a new appreciation for employee well-being while proving virtual engagements and delivery could work for IT services vendors. As 2022 starts, filling talent gaps in the near term will continue to challenge every vendor. Notably, HCL Technologies (HCLT) has begun investing in the long term with a program that is perhaps unique among IT services vendors and certainly, in TBR’s view, timely, a little risky and genuinely good for society. 

On Dec. 9, TBR spoke with Ramachandran Sundararajan, HCLT’s EVP of Human Resources at HCL America, and Rohan Varghese, HCLT’s VP and global head of Analyst Relations and Customer Advisory Board, both of whom provided details on the new apprenticeship program. The following reflects that discussion and TBR’s ongoing analysis of HCLT.

Flexibility, STEM and a 5-year apprentice journey  

With the company’s new apprenticeship program, announced in November, HCLT has crafted an expansive, flexible, multiyear journey for students intent on joining the IT services and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) ecosystem. The core program begins with a year spent at HCLT as a salaried employee, including a three-month “boot camp” that introduces apprentices to various aspects of HCLT’s IT services, consulting and technology businesses. The second phase focuses on practice-based learning. Sundararajan emphasized the “practice” part, noting that apprentices would have exposure to and gain experience working across many of HCLT’s core areas, such as SaaS, cloud, security and networking services. Over the final three months of the first year, apprentices join a live project environment, supporting and providing help at an appropriate proficiency level and putting to use skills learned from working in sandbox environments.

When apprentices graduate from this last phase, they become eligible for an HCLT-funded college program and can fully appreciate the flexibility that HCLT offers. Graduated apprentices can enroll in a four-year STEM program at any university, with HCLT picking up the tuition and fees and keeping the student on the company’s payroll. Apprentices can also choose an associate degree track to move more quickly to full-time employment. Or apprentices can opt for industry-recognized certifications, moving even more rapidly into the full-time workforce. In all three journeys, HCLT pays the academic costs, allowing the apprentices to earn a degree without any student debt.

Looking beyond the usual boundaries while staying aligned to HCLT’s core

Notably, HCLT has designed the apprenticeship program to seek candidates both geographically and economically diverse from the standard STEM talent pool. HCLT wants to attract students with fewer financial advantages than the average college student and will be recruiting most heavily in cities away from the technology hubs of Silicon Valley; Austin, Texas; and Boston. Sundararajan said HCLT will work with community groups in Cary, N.C.; Hartford, Conn.; and Sacramento, Calif., among other cities, although HCLT would welcome apprentices from any part of the U.S. In addition to throwing the net wide in terms of who and from where, Sundararajan said the goals of the program centered on building skills for the future, recognizing that the technical skills, who has them, and where they live will have lasting effects across their communities.

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