Dataseam: Growing the IT Workforce in Eastern Kentucky

Like many coal-impacted areas in Appalachia, Eastern Kentucky is tackling economic transition by diversifying its economic bases and creating new opportunities. Emerging industries such as information technology (IT), computer science, and engineering have shown promise, but a shortage of IT talent was keeping the region from reaching its full potential. 

Dataseam – a workforce development and education nonprofit in Kentucky – recognized the value of early student engagement in apprenticeship models focused on skills-based technology career pathways, creating a sustainable pipeline of qualified candidates for future IT and other tech opportunities.  

“Kentucky’s tech wages are 95% higher on average than the national median, with nearly 30,000 unfilled tech jobs statewide,” said Dataseam CEO Brian Gupton. “The region needed a talent pool in IT for employers in banking, healthcare, education, and government to draw upon.” 

Developing Innovative IT Apprenticeships

In 2018, Dataseam developed their Registered Apprenticeship in Information Technology program for high school students in Eastern Kentucky. The apprenticeship, approved by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), is an innovative two-year program that includes on-the-the job training, specialized coursework, industry-standard training and mentoring for students, equipping a new generation with the skills and certifications needed for IT opportunities in Appalachian Kentucky and beyond.  

Thanks to a $1.5 million award through ARC’s POWER Initiative and a $1.4 million award through the U.S. Department of Labor’s WORC Initiative, Dataseam has expanded the apprenticeship and widened its reach in Eastern Kentucky. Twenty-eight school districts in 23 Appalachian Kentucky counties participate in Dataseam, representing nearly 40% of the state’s K-12 public schools. To date, fifty-seven high school students have already completed, or are in the process of completing, the apprenticeship program. As a result, many have the opportunity to pursue high-paying, stable careers in IT and other STEM-related fields. 

Participating employer-partner schools also receive new computing technology for the advanced apprenticeship curriculum, which helps address aging technology challenges in Eastern Kentucky schools.  

“For many of these high school juniors and seniors, this is their first job,” said Gupton. “They are getting work experience relevant across many sectors…and have the opportunity to fully enter the workforce with meaningful, family-sustaining employment much sooner.”