Apprentice Program Acceleration
This originally started in the U.K., and we brought it to Chicago in 2017. Aon was one of the first three founding members with Accenture and Zurich. Across our three companies, we only had 75 apprentices when we launched this, and it’s now across 140 companies and over 2,225 apprentices.
The goal for [Aon] is to really have the apprentices focus on the professional side of the careers…and the rethinking of the qualifications that you have to have a four-year degree to have a corporate professional job. We think absolutely the community colleges offer a tremendous new talent pool with a two-year education. The headline is still “earn while you learn,” so we pay for not only the salary while they’re working but also the benefits, which is a huge opportunity for the apprentices—tuition for school, books and fees. So they can really just focus on that 40 hours of earning while they learn.
We now are at a point where the visibility of the apprentice program is very high inside of Aon. You have departments really advocating for apprentices on [their] team and managers that want to play a role in driving social impact in their communities and wanting to mentor these kids that are coming in and be part of giving them their break in life. When you think about Chicago and now being up to 75 companies that are participating, this is a meaningful program. The most exciting thing is probably when you hear the story of the impact you’re making through the words of one of the apprentices.
It’s our job inside of Aon now to help promote them and move them up towards their career aspirations inside of our company. It’s a win for the community, but it’s a win for us as an organization with a fantastic retention of this group of colleagues who are so loyal and so appreciative.
There’s so many from our organizations [whose] eyes light up when they talk about the work they’re doing around this topic inside of Aon. I do think people are looking for a way to drive impact, particularly when you think about the last two years that we’ve been through and how can you give back, how can you impact the life of someone else. I think this is a great way to do it, in mentoring, teaching what you know to someone else.
We’ve taken someone [who was] a warehouse worker before and now taught her how to do reinsurance claims activity for some of the most sophisticated insurance companies in the world. Yeah. That takes many people on the reinsurance team to help her build her path, fail and succeed along the way. That’s so rewarding for the team members that she’s working with.
It has been a very rough couple of years with COVID and everything that we’ve gone through in many of our communities. Chicago is no stranger to that. I think what’s come out is a much stronger corporate commitment in many areas. I’d start with ESG. There isn’t a company out there that probably doesn’t have a strategy around the E, their path to net zero, climate change… But when you come to the S and the G, this is where the apprenticeship program is squarely at the opportunity of the board level. There is not a company out there that shouldn’t have a very public statement and stance around their commitment to having a diverse talent pool and one that oftentimes is tied to board governance, investor review and evaluation [by] people who want to work at your company. In our case at Aon, it’s part of our KPIs and compensation of our executive committee.
Many of the ESG strategies, if you read their plans, which I do every time I see a client, because it tells you a lot about their culture and their mission, I would say 75% of the ones I read have a tie to the social side of DE&I to the compensation of the executives… That is a commitment…that I haven’t seen before. But I think we needed to drive intentional change around this topic of DE&I.
I think the lessons learned would be the timing of what the last two years has been like for all of us; [it] has accelerated the interest. I think the scale—are you ready for it? Are we ready for 1,000 applicants? And how do we pick the 100 from the 1,000? That’s a good problem to have. I think the second would be mentorship and how important that is. … The learning for me has been pairing up the right mentor and teaching them that the questions that they may be asked could be entirely different than mentoring someone that came out of a four-year school. Our goal is to help make that apprentice successful and find the right match.
For any one of us, if you say, “Here’s where I am in my career today. Is this exactly where I thought I’d be 30 years ago?” Of course not. Our decisions change. Every year, we learn more about ourselves and our skill set and what we’re good at. The apprentices are no different. So how do we help them find the job inside of Aon that fits with their skill set in what energizes them every day? That’s what we have to stay committed to. It may or may not be the one we started with, and that’s OK.
Greg Case and our Global Inclusive Leadership Council … they make sure our global Aon stays on track with our executive team to execute the $30 million dollar investment over the next five years, marshalling and really getting the voice out on the apprentice program. I invite as many people listening that want to discuss it in any more detail. We’ve got the playbook, we’ve got the blueprint, and in many of these organizations we are willing to spend time to help any company shape it to suit their needs.
We want to challenge the idea that you need a four-year degree to do a professional corporate job. We think that is just not the case. There are both apprentice programs at the high school graduate level and, in our case, community college level. I would invite accountability. This doesn’t happen without where we started, the intention, and driving outcomes and looking at yourself in the mirror and saying, “Have we made progress? How are we going to hold ourselves accountable?” That’s the path we’re on. I’m so excited to see it grow to this level.