Cultivating IT Talent through Apprenticeships and Collaborations

by Steve Wiggins on June 27, 2014 · 0 comments

Editor’s note: The following guest blog post is authored by Steve Wiggins, executive vice president and chief information officer at BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina. Read what other employers and workers have to say about apprenticeship here.

Many may think of Columbia, South Carolina, as simply the state’s capital city or home of the University of South Carolina. But it also has become a national hub for insurance technology.

At the center of this emerging sector is BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, a major employer and economic engine in the region. We’re a large enterprise with a diversified business model consisting of the health insurance business, its supporting operations − including robust technology capabilities − and many subsidiary companies. A significant portion of the company’s focus lies in handling outsourced technology needs for other insurers and federal agencies, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and TRICARE.

Our work requires talented and skilled information technology professionals. There is keen competition for the limited pool of skilled employees in this sector nationwide, and especially in a concentrated regional market. That’s why we developed our own Registered Apprenticeship program to equip employees with the technical skills needed to meet industry standards. This training approach allows us to develop our own in-house experts, and it provides us with a high-quality, specially trained and diverse workforce.

An apprentice is part of the BlueCross BlueShield team from day one. Left to right: database administrator Andrew Trinks, and application developers David Sumter and Darrell Bell.

An apprentice is part of the BlueCross BlueShield team from day one. Left to right: database administrator Andrew Trinks, and application developers David Sumter and Darrell Bell.

Since 1997, more than 425 apprentices have completed our program. There are four separate course tracks ranging from 42 to 48 months: Host Application Development, Non-Host Application Development, Systems Support and Infrastructure Communications Technology. Apprentices “earn and learn” during the program, and receive incremental wage increases as they demonstrate new competencies. They must log at least 60 hours per month of targeted on-the-job training after the initial course work is complete. One reason we know this program is a win/win for both the company and our apprentices is that we have a 68 percent employee retention rate over a five-year period, a high number in this field.

While the Registered Apprenticeship program is our longest running effort to train skilled IT workers, it’s just one part of our commitment to developing IT talent that extends beyond the corridors of BlueCross.

We’ve taken the lead helping the region cultivate a qualified IT workforce by collaborating with state technical colleges through Apprenticeship Carolina and with state universities. In 2009, BlueCross became a founding partner in “IT-oLogy,” a nonprofit collaboration of businesses, academic institutions and organizations dedicated to expanding the IT pipeline, fostering economic development and advancing the IT profession. Its innovative offerings have drawn national attention and accolades.

“BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina has been so smart in its approach to workforce development. Long before other organizations were thinking in this way, BlueCross found a way to meet an unmet need. By breaking down traditional barriers to apprenticeships, the company redefined a centuries-old concept to meet its demands for highly skilled information technology staff. This approach is creating value, not only for today, but also for the future. It is a great model for what can be accomplished.”  -Brad Neese, director of Apprenticeship Carolina

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