Companies are still competing for tech talent, however many businesses continue to struggle with recruiting diverse employees. The root issue? Everyone is fishing in the same pond, competing for the same pool of talent.
Some companies have decided to pivot and pursue alternative approaches to recruiting underrepresented tech talent. Uber Design Pathways (UDP) Apprenticeship Program, for example, is a recent success story. Last summer, Uber first partnered with General Assembly to identify a group of high-potential, underrepresented San Francisco Bay Area residents interested in transitioning careers and provide them with the unique opportunity to embark on a future-proof UX career through the design apprenticeship.
What is an apprenticeship?
An apprenticeship is a pathway to steady employment for early-career workers that offers the opportunity to learn new skills on the job, under the supervision of an expert. While apprenticeships have existed since the beginning of the history of work, they have typically been associated with skilled labor and crafts, such as electrician work, plumbing and electrical engineering. However, the challenges of today’s economy have inspired a broader set of industries to adopt the apprenticeship model.
Apprenticeships are different from internships in that they are typically much longer (e.g., a year or more) and include a training plan focused on specific skills the employer needs. An apprenticeship usually offers a higher level of mentorship than an internship or other entry-level job. Finally, apprenticeships are fully paid, may result in an industry-recognized credential or college credit, and often lead to full-time employment. For this reason, they are appealing to individuals who still need to earn a source of income while preparing for a future career.
As part of the UDP program at Uber, apprentices completed a 9-week UX Design Immersive course led by General Assembly before entering Uber’s 8-month full-time, paid rotational program.
Benefits of apprenticeships
Business leaders consider talent shortages a major threat, and fields like UX design, software engineering and data analytics face the biggest skills gaps.
As competition for traditional tech talent remains hot, tech-led companies like Uber have launched apprenticeships to recruit and develop skilled talent. Because apprenticeships offer on-the-job training to recruits, companies are able to source talent from a wider pool of diverse, underrepresented backgrounds, such as those without college degrees and high-potential candidates working in non-technical roles. By sourcing from traditionally overlooked talent pools and communities, companies can recruit faster, better retain employees and lower the cost of talent acquisition in the long run.
“Five years ago, I never imagined having a career in UX design,” said Monica De Loera-Figueroa, a former communications professional who became an apprentice in Uber’s UDP program. “In fact, I wasn’t even aware that UX design was a profession. I simply lacked exposure to the various career paths available. Unless you are in close proximity to tech, it’s hard to know about all the different possibilities that exist in these industries.”
De Loera-Figuero is one of several apprentices without a technical background who participated in the UDP program.
“I was interested in technology and the way people leveraged it to navigate new environments and stay in touch with their home community, but I didn’t know that I could learn the skills to actually change that technology,” said Leila Berkowitz, another apprentice who had previously worked in a refugee organizing role, supporting migrants from Syria and Afghanistan in Greece.
The Impact: Uber’s Design Pathways Apprenticeship Program
Looking at the Design team’s goals and needs for diverse, early career talent, Uber turned to General Assembly as a partner to build its design apprenticeship program. General Assembly supported Uber in sourcing and selecting candidates for the program, including those from financially under-resourced backgrounds and underserved communities that typically face barriers to gaining higher education, technical experience, and high-growth careers.
“I believe in giving back to our design community, and what better way than to participate in a program that helps those who do not have a design or technology background transition into a product design career,” said Andrea Baltazar, Senior Manager of Product Design at Uber, who sponsored the program and also had the opportunity to manage one of the UDP apprentices. “I’m a career transitioner and know that an important part of changing careers is having mentors and coaches who can help guide you. I was happy to hear that Uber was starting this program and honored to be selected to participate in it.”
Fully sponsored by Uber, apprentices enrolled in a UX Design Immersive course at General Assembly that took them from beginners to job-ready in just nine weeks. General Assembly worked with Uber to customize the apprentices’ learning by covering tools and technologies used at Uber, ensuring learning objectives aligned with Uber’s design core competencies and hosting guest speakers from Uber to help apprentices learn more about different teams, current priorities, and the company’s internal environment. Learning from best-in-class instructors, apprentices successfully met all course requirements and walked away with their own personal portfolios, showcasing the growth of their skills and design interests over the 9 weeks.
“I learned so much and grew over the course of 9 weeks to where I feel like I am truly a designer now,” said Erica Kong, who was a UDP apprentice in 2022. “This is something I could not have done without GA.”
Apprentices shared that the coursework they completed helped them build impactful skills both directly related to UX design and more broadly focused on soft skills and job preparedness. Before they started working in rotational roles at Uber, they honed skills like asking for clear, transparent feedback, effectively conducting user interviews, building prototypes from scratch, and self-starting projects.
“One piece of advice I brought with me from our GA coach, Freddy, is to ‘fail fast and often,’” said Hilda Li, another apprentice in the program. “I learned to be proactive and to embrace failure, because it is all part of the design process, and allows us to iterate and improve our designs quickly which leads to better outcomes in the long run.”
After completing coursework, each apprentice was placed on a Design team at Uber and paired with a mentor. Throughout the full-time, paid rotational program, they had the chance to work alongside Uber’s engineers, product managers, designers, researchers and writers in a fast-paced environment. They led end to end design projects, participated in complex team initiatives, and were responsible for presenting and articulating new concepts and/or advanced research findings to more senior and veteran colleagues across the organization.
“I was especially interested in this program because it included mentorship from a senior designer and the opportunity to be embedded on a design team,” said Berkowitz. “I have made so many valuable connections at Uber and through GA – people that I really admire and love learning from. I’m really grateful for the way my colleagues have pushed me and inspired me to be a better designer.”
In preparation of UDP apprentices exiting the program, Uber and GA continued partnering to provide all apprentices with live-online, career coaching sessions, and in early May of 2023, apprentices were offered a competitive opportunity to further pursue a career at Uber and interview for two open roles on the Uber Design teams.
“This program has been very challenging and I’ve doubted myself many times along the way, but I’m a completely different person than 10 months ago,” said Berkowitz. “I’ve developed many skills but also a deep passion for design, and I’m so grateful to have gotten the opportunity to learn about the industry and move into a new phase of my life.”
Inspired by the apprentices’ stories? Need help addressing your team’s digital needs? Contact to us today to learn more about how GA can be your next tech talent solution.