The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded Apprenti, Washington state’s first registered tech apprenticeship program, a $7.5 million, five-year contract to continue its nationwide expansion, the program announced today.

Apprenti focuses on placing diverse and underrepresented talent — including women, minorities, and veterans — into top tech roles across the U.S. The Seattle-based program, powered by the Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) and run by the WTIA Workforce Institute, was created to address the tech talent shortage in the state.

Launched in 2016, it offers a proven, reliable pipeline for underrepresented groups, bridging the talent gap and giving diverse talent with nontraditional backgrounds the opportunity to apprentice at some of the top companies in the world, Apprenti said in a news release.

The program was featured in a 425 Business story in June. An apprentice in that story who went on to land a software engineer role at Microsoft in Redmond called Apprenti a “life-changing program.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on the nation’s economy through layoffs. But even before the crisis, evolving technologies and new ways of working were disrupting jobs and the skills employees needed to do them, the release said, citing research from McKinsey. The shift, coupled with a dramatic split in college attendance between higher- and lower-income students, has accelerated the need for programs to bridge the gap for untapped talent with nontraditional backgrounds, the release added.

“Closing these gaps helps lift our economy as we recover from the pandemic and also builds organizations that look more like the communities in which they operate,” Jennifer Carlson, co-founder and executive director of Apprenti, said in the release. “This contract from the Department of Labor solidifies the continued need for our program, and apprenticeship as a national system, allowing us to expand our proven model and create jobs during a time it’s needed most.”

Apprenti operates in 16 U.S. markets and has placed more than 1,000 apprentices nationwide at top companies. More than 80 percent of these apprentices have been retained or hired post-apprenticeship with significantly higher salaries than previous employment, the release said, noting that apprentices in Washington state earn an average salary of $87,209 in their first year after graduation, or 114 percent more than their previous income.