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Exploring the Role of Apprenticeship in Today’s Economy with Tal Frankfurt + Robert Lerman

Cloud for Good has launched Talent for Good, a large-scale talent apprenticeship program designed specifically to benefit the Salesforce ecosystem.  It’s important to note that an apprenticeship differs from an internship in a few key ways.  Internships are often short-term (1-3 months) where apprenticeships are longer-term (1-3 years).  Additionally, apprenticeships are more structured and skill-specific than internships.  More importantly, apprentices are hired as full-time employees whereas interns are often unpaid, or at best part-time or temporary employees.  Talent for Good designs and undertakes training to develop diverse talent for the ever-growing Salesforce ecosystem and allow Cloud for Good’s clients to hire Salesforce-trained talent after trying out the new talent on Cloud for Good projects.  This new program responds directly to the urgent need for ready-to-hire talent in the Salesforce ecosystem.

Cloud for Good Founder and CEO Tal Frankfurt sat down with Robert Lerman, an institute fellow in the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute, as well as an emeritus professor of economics at American University, for an in-depth discussion exploring the role of apprenticeships in the digital economy, and how programs like Talent for Good can help pave the way to greater economic prosperity on a large scale.

Tal Frankfurt (TF): What makes a great apprenticeship program?

Robert Lerman (RL): What makes a great apprenticeship program is having an occupational outcome in mind, an expertise that the apprentice will achieve in terms of skills and capabilities.  A good fit with employers, especially the training employer, is a solid combination of work-based learning and some academic learning, as well as certification that demonstrates that expertise.  Finally, a great apprenticeship program provides an outlet by which the apprentice can contribute to the goods or services that the training organization is undertaking.  Essentially, the apprentice should contribute to the organization, actively learn while they’re contributing, should have in mind what the final outcome of their skill development would be, and then receive some kind of recognized certification that demonstrates that capability.

TF: Why do we need apprenticeship programs?  People are going to college, spending four or more years and often hundreds of thousands of dollars.  What’s not working?

RL: There are several disconnects in the current system.  First, many people start college but don’t finish.  Some who finish have found that there is very little applicability of their education to a good career.  You’re right, universities can be very expensive.  And don’t forget the opportunity cost of going to school full time.  Forgone earnings are a big expense.  So, even if a student is attending a lower-priced college, such as a community college, all that time being put in could have been used towards earning money, so that comes at a cost to the learner.

TF: That’s very interesting and I think it connects back to the concept we’ve been establishing with Talent for Good.  While most colleges do a great job equipping students with core skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills, given the many demands of employers, there’s a lot of learning that needs to take place outside of the traditional school environment.  Salesforce is a perfect example of a platform that’s powering business, but is very rarely taught in college classrooms.

RL: Right, I think of learning in terms of academic learning (writing, math skills, etc.), occupational learning, and then what you might call employability learning.  That last facet of learning, in terms of employability, deals with creative problem solving, overcoming difficulties, knowing how to work with supervisors, etc.  Schools provide great academic learning, but these other forms of skills are really important for productivity and creating a quality operation, and that’s where apprenticeship can come in.

TF: What are the overarching advantages to the apprentice, to the worker?  Obviously, they get to earn while they learn.  Can you speak to the importance of that facet of earning while learning?

RL: Absolutely, in a good apprenticeship the apprentice is doing something that you need to pay somebody for.  It might cost the employer more at the onset, but apprentices start earning their keep very quickly.  Even if apprentices are doing jobs that are more mundane at the beginning than what the final skilled position will be, they are training, contributing, and experiencing how to contribute in the context of your company.  This experience broadens routes to rewarding careers in a way the academic-only approach simply cannot.

TF: I like the idea you’re touching on of focusing on developing skills via apprenticeship learning versus committing to a career, especially if you’re undecided on what path to take, through academic learning.

RL: I’ve found that what you learn in your apprenticeship, even if you find yourself changing careers later on, that experience stays with you; the skills are transferable across industries and areas of focus.

TF: Speaking specifically to Cloud for Good and our Talent for Good apprenticeship program, we’re working within the Salesforce ecosystem, one that is projected to create 9.3 million new jobs and $1.6 trillion in new business revenues worldwide by 2026.  From your standpoint, how do you see apprenticeship helping fill the gap between available talent and projected growth of the ecosystem?

RL: If we think about apprenticeship as a kind of decentralized system for developing skills, companies can utilize this system to generate and pool talent to provide flexibility and have more people in place to help your company as needs arise.  One of the benefits for companies in terms of apprenticeship is something I call the “option value.”  We’re familiar with the concept of option values in the context of stocks, in that option value of stocks is generated from the possibility that certain stocks will become profitable, and we can then exercise that option on the stock.  This translates to having a pool, or a surplus, of trained people.  You then have the option to utilize those people in a variety of capacities, and that option value is incredibly important because the world is uncertain.  The higher the uncertainty of a product, or a service, or an industry, the higher the option value becomes.

TF: Bob, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your insights with Cloud for Good.

RL: You bet, always good to see you, Tal.

Robert Lerman is an Institute fellow in the Center on Labor, Human Services, and Population at the Urban Institute as well as professor of economics at American University and a research fellow at IZA in Bonn, Germany. A leading expert on apprenticeship, he recently established the American Institute for Innovative Apprenticeship. His current research focus is on skills, employer training, apprenticeship programs in the United States and abroad, and housing policies.

For more information on Talent for Good and how Cloud for Good is helping to solve the Salesforce talent gap, visit

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