Hear "Appalachia" and a few images may come to mind: craggy hills, coal mines, poverty. Interapt (a Louisville-based IT firm) is partnering with the Kentucky Labor Cabinet and a local community college to change that imagery. Together they’ve piloted Interapt Skills, creating apprenticeships for growing occupations, including Quality Assurance Engineers, UX/UI Designers, Android and iOS Developers, and Release Engineers in eastern Kentucky.

Interapt CEO and founder, Ankur Gopal, was facing a shortage of IT workers in 2016 when he learned he was not alone - that the state faces a "technology gap" of 10,000 open IT jobs by 2020 - and that apprenticeship provides a way to grow the skilled workforce he needs. A native Kentuckian, Mr. Gopal believes, "Insourcing Kentucky tech jobs is a logical choice.  This is where we do business.  Most of our customers are here and we find talent here."

Interapt applied for State Apprenticeship Expansion Grant funds and was one of three projects selected by the Kentucky Labor Cabinet. Interapt worked with Big Sandy Community College in Paintsville to set up Interapt Skills - a paid 6-month training program teaching coding and other IT skills in the heart of Appalachia. They recruited participants through radio and newspaper advertisements, receiving more than 800 applications for 50 open spots in the program. Interapt and other companies hired the completers upon graduation, raising their earnings from $17,000 - $21,000 before starting the program to $36,000 - $60,000 today.

Throughout the pilot, Interapt worked with the Kentucky Labor Cabinet to transition Interapt Skills to a 1-year, front-loaded registered apprenticeship program - the state's first IT and Networking Registered Apprenticeship. Sixteen of the pilot participants who took positions with Interapt are now registered through the apprenticeship program and continuing their apprenticeship, with credit provided for the upfront training.

Technology jobs are part of the solution in Appalachia, and -thanks to the demand for IT skills and the opportunities to work from home - perfect for people with deep roots who prefer to stay in their home state. Now Interapt Skills is expanding into new counties and high schools where program participants will learn coding for Apple and Android mobile apps. Based on Interapt's success, over 20 businesses signed letters of intent to consider program graduates for in-demand positions in their companies. Mr. Gopal says, "Whether a person is coming out of high school or trying to get off of welfare, I want to provide a seamless pathway [to higher education], where apprenticeship is no longer an either/or but a requirement."

For more information, contact Deborah Williamson, Advisor to the Secretary of Labor, at deborah.williamson@ky.gov or check out the state's apprenticeship website, Twitter, or Facebook feed.

This State Apprenticeship Expansion (SAE) grantee spotlight was first featured in in the December 2017 Apprenticeship Connections Newsletter, a resource for SAE grantees. SAE grants were awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor to 36 states and 1 territory in November 2016. To view other SAE grantee spotlights, visit the Apprenticeship Connections Newsletter archive on the Apprenticeship Community of Practice.