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Pioneering Corporate Apprenticeship

Vice President of Global Early Careers Apprenticeships at Aon, Meghan Parrilla, shares how re-thinking entry-level job qualifications catalyzed Aon’s corporate apprenticeship program that’s now sweeping the nation.

Four-year degrees are not the ONLY path

There is an expectation that you need a bachelor’s degree to go into corporate jobs; but here in Chicago, Aon already had a partnership with Harold Washington College, a two-year community college that would introduce us to great talent through our internship program.

“Our interns would graduate from Harold Washington, but wouldn’t be able to apply for any of our positions because of a set four-year degree requirement in our job descriptions. This made us look at our entry-level and early career positions, wondering whether or not a four-year degree was actually needed to be successful on the job.

“Through those great conversations, we found that a lot of our entry-level and early career roles would provide the necessary knowledge and skills on the job, just like an apprenticeship.

A global concept adapted in the United States

Apprenticeships are typically reserved for the trades, but we knew the model could also work in the corporate space. In 2012, Aon founded a successful apprenticeship program in the UK, so we set out to create something similar here in Chicago.

“In 2017, we partnered with companies Zurich, who was already working on an apprenticeship model with a Department of Labor Certification, and Accenture to form the Chicago Apprentice Network.

“This was key because we want the model to go beyond just Aon, driving apprenticeship across the communities and cities we work in to have other large employers look at this model for a key talent pipeline.

Let’s get to work

“With the support of our growing new network, we headed into community colleges, specifically leveraging our partnership with Harold Washington College, because we knew community college students were already balancing work and school without their employer’s acknowledgement.

Our program makes going to school part of apprentices’ work schedule, the hours spent working and studying all counting toward their 40-hour, paid work week.

“We offer three Department of Labor certified tracks for apprentices to follow: insurance and risk, technology, and human services. The roles within each track already existed before the apprenticeship program, but we determined what training looked like and what apprentices would learn over two years on the job.

In addition, Aon pays the cost of their associate degree tuition and partners closely with community colleges to best support and prioritize apprentices’ education.

Seeing early, promising signs of success

“From the first year of the program, we found the “earn as you learn” model to be very successful, and apprentices liked it so much that they would tell their family and friends to apply for the program too. Every year from 2017 to 2020, 25 apprentices joined our program.

In 2021, we decided to expand our reach, welcoming 45 apprentices into our Chicago program and 55 apprentices to newly created apprenticeship programs at Aon locations in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Houston, Minneapolis, and San Francisco.

“The apprenticeship model is now a proven business initiative to recruit and advance talent. We know it’s an effective strategy because managers often say apprentices are graduating from the apprenticeship program at a higher level than their hires who come in straight out of college.

“82% of apprentices have converted from successfully completing the program to entering into a business unit role, which means they have been promoted at least one level out of their apprentice role. This is how we open our aperture to include all of the great talent that’s around us.

Interested in becoming an Aon Apprentice? Let us know and a member of our team will reach out to you.

Read our interviews with Aon Apprentices Jamiella and Michael and learn more about the Aon Apprenticeship Program through blogs and videos here.