“Apprentices are a path to career success for young people; they’re also a path to high quality talent for employers, and a foundation for impact in communities across the country.” That’s how Aon CEO Greg Case (pictured) opened his address at a Chicago Apprentice Network event on Monday (November 14), kicking off a weeklong celebration of National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) in the United States.
He was joined by the First Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden, US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, US Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, and US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona – all of whom addressed the importance of apprenticeships and ways to continue to scale the apprenticeship model among more employers, giving more people greater access to sustainable careers with paid training to be successful.
Aon co-founded the Chicago Apprentice Network in 2017, alongside Accenture and Zurich North America. Since then, the network has grown to include more than 80 employers that have brought on nearly 1,500 apprentices in industries including insurance, finance, technology, consulting, retail, and manufacturing. In 2022, Accenture, Aon, and Zurich North America were named Apprenticeship Ambassadors by the Biden Administration’s Department of Labor.
“Five years ago, Aon looked across our talent pool, and we realized that we could expand opportunities and create a more diverse talent pipeline. Talent [is] our most valuable asset,” said Case. “We realized that firms benefit when they expand their candidate pools and open the doors to a broader, more diverse group of candidates. Apprenticeships allow talented individuals to earn as they learn and build a foundation of future success.”
Aon’s two-year apprenticeship program pays for salary, benefits, tuition, fees, and books while apprentices pursue their associate degrees. Those who successfully complete the program are offered full-time positions within the firm. In November 2020, Aon announced the expansion of its apprenticeship program with an investment of $30 million, and the formation of Apprentice Networks in six new cities across the country.
Case said: “I get asked a lot: ‘What does this really look like in practice? What does it mean?’ And my colleagues here would say: ‘Picture three outcomes: a great job with a future career path, excellent education at a community college, and a network of companies that are changing the outdated idea that the only way into a career in corporate America is by attaining a four-year degree.’
“At Aon, we’re in the business of better decisions, and I will tell you, we have made no better decision than our commitment to this network and this program. We’re constantly inspired by the apprentices, by our colleagues who manage and mentor them, and by our partners in the business and civic community, who are together building an ecosystem for all of us to thrive.”
Case introduced Terionna Wilson, a reinsurance apprentice at Aon, based in Chicago, who said the program has changed her life. One of six children, Wilson grew up in West Pullman, a neighborhood on the far south side of Chicago. She was accepted onto the program in August 2021, and is now in her second year of the program, earning an associate’s degree in business at Harold Washington College in Chicago, while working at Aon.
“Just two years ago, I was working as a warehouse associate just trying to stay afloat,” she reflected. “The job wasn’t for me, but with bills to pay, I couldn’t find a way to balance both school and work. Honestly, I always knew that there was something out there much better for me.”
Wilson, who followed in the footsteps of her older sister by applying for the apprenticeship program, claims to have found “the perfect balance” for her life, juggling school and work, while also earning an income, receiving employee benefits, and expanding her professional network at Aon. She said: “I truly couldn’t feel more stable and blessed. The apprenticeship program not only changed my life, but my family’s as well.”
Read more: Pioneering an agency apprenticeship program
Next came Dr Biden, an educator and vocal champion for community colleges in the US, encouraged employers to push politics aside and consider education as a bipartisan issue.
“Education has always been about jobs, and it isn’t a red issue or a blue issue; it’s an American issue,” she said. “I’ve had the chance to work with Republican leaders on this, and we have an opportunity to make some real bipartisan progress, building pathways that work for all students, and everyone has a role to play.
“Get involved ... create apprenticeships, work with the high schools and community colleges in your areas, mentor students, not because it will change lives (though it can), not because it will help your communities (though it will), but because when students here have the training that they need to succeed, your businesses will benefit.”
The First Lady concluded with a call to action: “We can only realize the full power of our workforce when we tap into its full potential, and that means all students, all Americans. With your help, we can build a stronger, more powerful economy for everyone from the bottom up and the middle out.”