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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.

Is it time for the Big Four referees to educate the public sector on the benefits of rules changes?

In TBR’s newest blog series, What Do You Think?, we’re sharing questions our subject-matter experts have been asking each other lately, as well as posing the question to our readers. If you’d like to discuss this edition’s topic further, contact Geoff Woollacott at [email protected].

Adoption accelerated as innovation stalled

Last year’s pandemic-induced changes across the technology space and society overall led TBR to consider how the pandemic accelerated existing technology adoption trends. From an emerging technology perspective, we increasingly believe private sector adoption will remain stalled until public sector actors with scale and influence rethink operating practices and enact and enforce regulatory governance. Several years ago, our “wallet versus will” special report argued that the public sector used to lead in technology adoption when funding was the decisive factor but lagged in technology adoption when consensus on common business rules proved elusive. Add in a pandemic, and we’re questioning whether private sector innovation has hit a roadblock that will be resolved only when there is greater public-private partnership and, more importantly, an ability for our political leaders to come to some consensus. Consider the following:

  • Our latest research around blockchain suggests a current period of disillusionment. Reaching the scale technologically feasible to generate business returns requires better automation and regulatory agility or the networks won’t achieve scale through broader ecosystem participation.
  • Globally, poor international cooperation related to the sharing of information and the movement of people between countries contributed to the spread of COVID-19. Imagine a blockchain-enabled universal product code (UPC) on a smartphone functioning as an international system of record regarding vaccination history.  

Early in the pandemic, supply chain disruptions made headlines and every consumer felt the impacts. Blockchain-enabled smart supply chains, tied into ports and international transactions, could have smoothed out some of these disruptions if the distributed ledger technology had been broadly embraced by countries and their import/export hubs. The Republic of Venice once ruled commerce, reaching the pinnacle of its power from 1425 to 1500. It’s no coincidence that general ledger accounting was invented in Italy during that same period.

Moving from city-states to countries, nations fundamentally seek to protect their citizens through sovereign laws, with many regulations revolving around property, currencies and finances. Cryptocurrency purportedly separates currency from nations. In one potential scenario, China’s newly launched digital yuan topples the U.S. dollar as the de facto international currency trading standard, greatly reducing the impact of economic sanctions from the U.S. foreign policy tool set. Venice’s grip on the Mediterranean loosened for many reasons and while blockchain wasn’t among them — needing another 500 years to be invented — the parallels to the U.S. can be unsettling.

Private sector initiative proved emerging tech-enabled practices are essential; now comes public sector education

Out of necessity, the private sector accelerated emerging technology-enabled use cases to address the pandemic’s impact. This highlighted gaps in how the public sector operates and responds to significant changes in the commercial space. For newly enhanced technological tools to deliver tangible business and social benefit after these proofs of concept, government must accommodate new ways of working while still providing expected regulatory benefits to its citizens against moral hazards. Not surprisingly, advisory firms with the tax and audit knowledge essentially acted as referees within the free-market systems that frantically developed the workarounds to sustain business operations in 2020, exposing the ways in which the public sector decreases, rather than increases, the efficiency and viability of emerging technology-enabled operations.  

So, what do you think? Is it time for the Big Four referees to educate the public sector on the benefits of rules changes?