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IBM's Baton Rouge Client Innovation Center is hiring apprentices for its downtown office. 

Facing a June 30 deadline to meet job levels required as part a state incentive package, IBM has hired apprentices for its Baton Rouge office as part of an overarching strategy to prime the pump of talent in the region, but would not say Tuesday whether it will beat the state-imposed hiring deadline and potential penalties that go with it. 

The company said Tuesday it hired a cohort of about 30 apprentices in Baton Rouge and another 20 apprentices in Monroe, noting it has hired more than 200 apprentices in the first year of its program. 

IBM signed an agreement with former Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration in 2013 with a commitment to hire up to 800 workers at a Baton Rouge Client Innovation Center by 2017 in exchange for a performance-based incentive package worth nearly $147 million over 17 years. IBM has struggled in recent years to hit job milestones and renegotiated an extension of the deal with Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2017 that avoided penalties on the company but raised their severity if hiring goals aren't met in Baton Rouge this month.

“We’ve really been ramping to this point,” said Charles Masters, IBM vice president of North America client innovation centers. “Our momentum is really good right now.”

In response to a question about its total number of employees in Baton Rouge, the company said in a statement: "IBM does not disclose hiring data beyond our reports to the state, but we are excited by the growth and enthusiasm of local workers and last quarter we saw IBM hire the most new colleagues into the Baton Rouge center than we’ve seen thus far in a single quarter."

A statement from the state's economic development department said IBM would be required to pay a nonperformance penalty of $10,000 per job below the 800-job threshold required for the 2019 project year ending June 30 if it does not make the deadline.

IBM's statement said "apprenticeship roles are recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor and are considered full-time employees at the Baton Rouge Client Innovation Center."

IBM executives, local education leaders and apprentices — some of whom are adults who transitioned into technology careers — met at the company's downtown offices on Tuesday to recognize state approval of a formalized apprenticeship program. 

Apprentices enter into a structured classroom training program and are paid on-the-job training under the guidance of an IBM mentor, the company said. As the apprentices’ skills increase, so does their earning potential. Upon completion of the program, apprentices earn an industry-recognized credential, and a spot at the front of the line for a job at IBM. They are also better positioned to land a job elsewhere in the tech industry, the company said

Apprentices being hired largely come from the local community. Baton Rouge Community College is a “major feeder” for the company and IBM says it has hired more than 300 LSU graduates since it opened in Baton Rouge. But it's also reaching beyond Baton Rouge to fill its ranks. The company is holding a career fair in Jackson, Mississippi, on June 22 to recruit workers to its Monroe or Baton Rouge offices.

At the Client Innovation Center in Baton Rouge, IBM teams are paired with clients on projects that leverage technology to modernize how business is done. Most of IBM’s clients are in the Fortune 100 but also government agencies. IBM clients are in industries from retail, travel, transportation and pharmaceuticals.

Those companies often need new tools such as enterprise software applications for planning and organization ranging from Microsoft products to Oracle. IBM also builds software from the ground up for clients. Some clients in top-level positions visit the Baton Rouge office before a deal is struck.

“Half the team uses (enterprise software) packages (for clients) and customizes those and the other half are building (software) from scratch,” Masters said. “We’re not doing routine tasks, we’re innovating and solving critical problems.”

Roughly 50 percent of the IBM employees hail from Louisiana, while the remainder have relocated from across the country from Chicago to New York City, according to the company. Average starting salaries range from the mid-$40,000s to the mid-$60,000s for new professional jobs, according to IBM.

"IBM is creating high-tech, good-paying jobs in Baton Rouge that will have a lasting impact on the local community and economy for many years to come," the company said in its statement.

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Follow Kristen Mosbrucker on Twitter, @k_mosbrucker