When it comes to finding qualified talent to fill key roles, many IT leaders these days are coming up short. Ninety-six percent of US-based IT and business executives in a recent CompTIA survey said too many workers lack advanced IT skills, with nearly 9 in 10 believing that neither K-12 schools nor colleges are sufficiently preparing students for today\u2019s IT jobs.\nEnter Accenture\u2019s National Apprenticeship Program, an \u201cearn while you learn\u201d IT training and hiring program designed to connect nontraditional candidates with IT career opportunities to diversity the talent pipeline and address the growing IT talent skills gap.\n[ Keep up with the 8 hot IT hiring trends (and 8 going cold), beware the 11 bad hiring habits that will burn you, and learn what it takes to retain top employees. | Get the latest CIO insights direct, with our CIO Daily newsletter. ]\nThe program, developed after Accenture executive leadership realized the company wasn\u2019t going after all the pools of talent available, opens the door for candidates without a traditional four-year degree in IT or a relevant field, says Pallavi Verma, Accenture\u2019s senior managing director of North America Quality and Risk Lead, who helps develop the programs in each city to ensure they find and recruit local talent and build relationships with local colleges and training programs.\nThe IT apprenticeship program was launched in 2016 as a way to upskill and reskill qualified candidates to give them a head start in the IT industry. By the end of 2020, the company will have trained more than 700 apprentices in 27 cities across the US, with a majority of those apprentices accepting full-time work at Accenture.\u00a0\nAddressing the gap by investing in talent\nThe demand for IT skills will only get bigger in the coming years. According to a study from McKinsey, US demand for advanced IT and programming skills will grow as much as 90 percent by 2030. Having a plan to make the most of available talent anywhere it can be found will be essential.\n Accenture\n\nPallavi Verma, senior managing director of North America Quality and Risk Lead, Accenture\n\n\n\u201cWe are a people-based company \u2014 people are our resources,\u201d Verma says. \u201cAnd in this economy, there is a war for talent and getting the best talent.\u201d\nThe apprenticeship program, which aims to uncover overlooked pools of talent across the US, works closely with local community colleges and education programs to tap to recruit people who want an opportunity to break into IT but who might otherwise be passed over by traditional recruiting efforts.\n\u201cIt's really about providing opportunity for people and for us to open up our pool of people. There's many pools of talent and we recognize that we shouldn't be looking at just one pool of talent,\u201d Verma says.\nThough participants are typically enrolled in a community college, the program also includes some IT aspirants who have a four-year degree in a non-technical field and want to change career paths.\n\u201cWe had someone in Chicago that had an architecture degree, but she got laid off and the scope of architecture didn't seem that great for her. So she pivoted and went back to community college and then went into our apprentice program,\u201d Verma says.\nOther examples include a food truck operator, natural gas pipe fitter and an English teacher who decided to get reskilled for IT through Accenture\u2019s apprenticeship program. The program also works closely with veterans and their families to help them get reskilled for IT jobs as they reenter the civilian workforce. \u00a0\n\u201cWe had somebody in San Antonio who was retired from the Air Force, as a cardiopulmonary technician, and then reskilled himself and learned coding at San Antonio College, and then applied for the apprentice program,\u201d Verma says.\n Accenture\n\nJoan Taylor, software engineering analyst, Accenture\n\n\nJoan Taylor, a software engineering analyst at Accenture who completed the IT apprenticeship program, was originally interested in a career in art and design.\n\u201cWhat drove me to IT eventually was the career options and my realization that technology, especially software development and engineering, is also a highly creative process,\u201d Taylor says.\nWith on-the-job training through the apprenticeship program, apprentices get a sense for what career path they might want to take in IT while learning skills in real-life scenarios that can\u2019t always be taught in a classroom.\n\u201cWhen you are in school, teachers tell you how to go about building software, but there were so many things I just hadn\u2019t thought about until I actually worked on real-life problems at Accenture. It\u2019s very different when you are building a solution for real people. You have to be a problem-solver and keep the user in mind. I think that mindset is very important to succeed in a technology career,\u201d Taylor says.\nCommunity college students want on-the-job training\nTaylor is by no means alone. An Accenture survey of community college students and counselors across the U.S. found that 59 percent of community college students want to pursue in-demand tech careers in app development, programming, coding, cybersecurity and more, but that they also want to receive training through employee-driven programs and apprenticeships to prepare for a career and get started in the industry.\nThe survey also found that 71 percent of students who participated in an apprenticeship program felt it helped them \u201cimprove their economic mobility and achieve greater financial stability\u201d by finding jobs with higher salaries, acquiring high-valued skills and landing full-time jobs instead of part-time work.\nFor Accenture, developing the apprenticeship program was a way to give \u201cpeople opportunity that they might not have had otherwise,\u201d Verma says, something the company knew was \u201cthe right thing to do.\u201d\nAccenture\u2019s apprentices come from diverse backgrounds, including industries and degree paths that don\u2019t typically lead to IT jobs. Diversity is crucial to running a successful business \u2014 the more perspectives, ideas and backgrounds you have at the table, the better products, services and software your company will produce.\n\u201c[Apprentices] bring the diversity of thinking to the table, and they are also incredibly motivated, so they recognize that they've been given an opportunity that has not been typical in the past. The level of enthusiasm work ethic and loyalty is significant, maybe even more significant than our traditional hires,\u201d Verma says.\nAccenture lends the overall success of its IT apprenticeship program to an internal culture of learning and training and a corporate environment that encourages all of its employees, not just apprentices, to change and grow.\n\u201cWe give people an environment where they can learn by actually giving them real jobs to do but in a space where they're safe and they have individuals that are there to help them through that,\u201d Verma says.