Tim Hebert, CEO of Atrion Networking Corp., had a problem. He couldn’t find enough qualified employees to meet the needs of his growing business.
So, he decided to train them himself.
Hebert estimates the company invested between $12,000 to $15,000 for each of 13 people recruited to learn the technical skills needed to service his customers. For six months, the members of Atrion’s first apprenticeship program went to “school” at the Warwick-based company from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
“It was really hard to find enough good people – either they had the technical skills and didn’t have the soft skills – or they had the soft skills but not technical skills,” said Hebert, who has been developing the program over the last three years. Atrion did 90 percent of the training internally, including using a full-time trainer, he said.
Atrion isn’t alone among local technology firms in struggling to find qualified workers.
Some bring in people to do the training while others, like Atrion, have put internal training programs in place.
Even with institutions like the New England Institute of Technology in East Greenwich and the Community College of Rhode Island, Atrion still found it worthwhile to make a more than $150,000 training investment to fill entry-level positions.
“What we found [is] the technical skill level with those programs [isn’t enough],” Hebert said, when asked whether graduates of the IT Boot Camp – a 15-week program funded through the Governor’s Workforce Board of Rhode Island – were sufficiently trained to work at Atrion.
“They don’t get the people where they need to be fast enough or to a technical level that’s high enough so they can work within our account base,” Hebert said. “If we did more work in basic computer-type stuff, they’d probably be very good candidates … but we really need people that are a year beyond their skill level.”
Hebert’s complaints resonate with many local technology firms looking to recruit.
“It’s very difficult. Honestly, we [have to] look regionally.” said Trish Arling, who has been the recruitment manager for Lighthouse Computer Services for six years. She said the company brings in between five to 10 people a year and the time it takes her to fill a position on average increased from 44 days in 2007 to 66 days last year, which she attributes to there not being enough people “at the level” Lighthouse needs. “I think there are not enough companies [in Rhode Island] to get that experience in.