Mike Toman started his IT solutions company, Tardigrade Technology (formerly Compusystems), in 1995 as a sole proprietorship, an arrangement that suited him until recently. He’d hit a ceiling, unable to take on any more business and turning away clients.
By teaming up with Guilford Apprenticeship Partners (GAP) two years ago, Tardigrade has grown to five employees and now serves clients from Texas to New England. Out of the company’s five employees, three are youth apprentices—two are in their second year of the four-year apprenticeship program and one is in their first.
Since making the decision to partner with GAP, Tardigrade is responding faster, more efficiently to client needs. This has allowed Mike to focus more on growth and development, which has resulted in a 30 percent increase in business. “It has totally shifted the dynamic from ‘maintain the business’ to ‘grow the business,” he says.
Apprentices graduate from the program after four years, at which time they’ve earned their associate degree and they’re ready to be full-time employees already equipped with experience, company knowledge, and relevant skills. Youth apprentices earn an income throughout their four years in the program and attend college at no cost, allowing them to earn a degree without any debt.
GAP added an IT track to its youth apprenticeship program two years ago, and Tardigrade was one of its first partners. All of the company’s apprentices start as technicians where they learn every aspect of the business. As their knowledge base grows and passions deepen, they will eventually move into specialized positions.
Students apply to be an apprentice for a company that interests them. In turn, the company has to express interest in the student, as well. After a pre-apprenticeship summer session (a trial period of sorts) after their junior or senior year of high school, youth apprentices go to school for part of the day and work part of the day. They then move on to GTCC where they have the same arrangement –– their days a combination of school and work.
Read more about how students earn and learn.
It can be a challenge to find good talent in any industry, and it’s especially challenging to find good talent without any fixed ideas from previous employers. Mike says, “At GAP, we found a huge pool of passionate, motivated, driven students who really know what they want, and we get to train them the way that we do things.”
After Tardigrade’s apprentices transition to full-time employees, Mike will have a staff with the necessary credentials and on-the-job training. “That’s one of the reasons why GAP is such a great tool: the apprentices get experience right off the bat,” he says.
Read more about why apprenticeship works for employers.
Throughout their partnership, GAP has provided Tardigrade with community connections and program support. Mike wouldn’t have been able to navigate the apprenticeship program as a sole proprietor without leaning heavily on GAP and other participating companies. It’s been invaluable to have access to an extensive network of local industry with the same goal of making apprenticeship work for all involved.
“I’ve learned a lot from other companies about the program and about apprenticeships,” says Mike. “We all want to see each other succeed.”
Read more about local companies who have tried apprenticeship.
Mike finds enormous personal satisfaction in helping young people find direction, develop their passions, and sharpen their skills. In addition to mentoring his apprentices in the IT field, he’s also helping them navigate the world of adulting; Mike implemented a life skills course so his apprentices can learn how to better understand and manage their newfound responsibilities and steady income. The course covers everything from personal finance to time management to how to apply to rent an apartment.
“For me, it’s been very rewarding to get to see the changes both on the technical side as well as the personal growth side,” he says. “I wish I’d had someone to teach me those things when I was their age.”
GAP’s youth apprenticeship program continues to positively influence the community at large, and Mike sees the ripple effect. He says, “The apprentices are getting a headstart. They’re going to be productive citizens of society. It’s great for the economy, for the local community. It benefits everybody…It’s just a win-win.”