Close the Compromise Gap

In the room, a former public speaking professor, a professional dancer, an art history major and a former biology student are discussing the latest trends regarding Cisco Systems and bring-your-own-device issues. What are these four doing at a technology services company? They are the recent graduating class of Adcap’s sales apprentice program, which incorporates hands-on experience, one-on-one mentorship and group training on a variety of topics from sales, networks and even basic professional protocols.

Adcap, based in the Atlanta area, works in a niche industry, and we pride ourselves on our expertise in Cisco equipment, storage, servers and other technology integrations. For this reason, we had struggled finding qualified talent with experience selling our specific product segments.

HR and talent professionals call this the skills gap, and we have been bemoaning it for years.
We wanted to tackle the problem with a fresh perspective, so we began calling it the compromise gap. This refers to the way organizations and workers blame each other for the gap, when instead they must meet in the middle. Employers need to invest in substantial training and career planning, and the unemployed need to adjust their expectations.

To solve this dilemma, we took a page from American Founding Fathers like Ben Franklin, who began their careers as apprentices. We created two apprentice programs to develop technical engineers and sales professionals internally. Instead of complaining about the lack of a talent pool, we set out to create one.

What makes the programs apprenticeships instead of traditional entry-level positions or career transition roles is the blend of three components: training (50 percent), practical experience (30 percent) and mentorship (20 percent).

One of the keys to success was finding ways to motivate and encourage mentors to share their craft and best practices one full day a week, versus most mentor programs that require simply a lunch once a quarter and an occasional email exchange.

With the sales group, we looked to their core motivating factor: money. The apprentices would be tied to their mentor for their entire career at Adcap. The mentor in turn would be financially motivated to advance the apprentice each step along the way.

With the mentors in place, we defined the program and created transparency for all involved with what we called the Adcap CLEAR Advantage.

At Adcap, you will have clarity with respect to career path, learning objectives, expectations, accountabilities and rewards.

For our sales apprenticeship, the end goal is to develop an account manager internally in one to two years with a business case that allows us to break as close to even as possible. For our technical apprentice program, the goal is a deployment engineer with similar objectives.

The first thing we laid out was the career path for both of these roles so when apprentices begin with Adcap, they understand not only what the next job in their career path is but the next three jobs. Additionally, we defined what they needed to learn, what expectations they needed to meet and what accountabilities they would be held to in progressing through each step.

Once we had defined the career path, mentors and training curriculum, it was time to start finding candidates. We didn’t want to rely on traditional methods such as reviewing resumes for keywords. Experience didn’t matter; potential did.

For sales apprentice slots, candidates have to do a mock sales presentation on one of our products and role-play cold calls with their potential mentors. Technical apprentices have to take written evaluations, troubleshoot within a lab environment and design a network on the white board.

The apprentice program has been one of the most successful endeavors at Adcap. The technical apprentice program, for example, has yielded a 7 percent reduction in cost and a 4 percent increase in productivity in the engineering department. Employee engagement has increased across all departments as the energy these programs have created is contagious. The programs aren’t perfect, but they are evolving and growing daily.