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Houston business leaders join forces to create innovative apprenticeship program

Accenture and Aon have teamed up to promote the creation of apprenticeship programs across Houston. Photo via Getty Images

Much of the business world has operated under the belief that to enter the workforce, one must have a four-year degree. While this belief might be evolving naturally over recent years, two corporations have teamed up to move the needle even more and are launching a program that opens the hiring door much wider to promote a diversified workforce.

Last week, Accenture and Aon – with support from the Greater Houston Partnership — announced the launch of the Greater Houston Apprenticeship Network in Houston. The program aims to promote and support apprentice programs across companies in town. The duo has already rolled out similar programs across six cities in the United States and plans to create 500 new jobs by 2025.

The initiative began in 2016 in Chicago, where both Accenture and Aon were re-evaluating their workforce.

"It was a CEO to CEO initiative between Aon and Accenture," Mary Beth Gracy, Accenture Houston's managing director, tells InnovationMap. "We realized we could have more of an impact together than we could separately."

Both companies took inventory of their workforce and what jobs they had and established what positions could be adjusted to be suitable to non-traditional hires.

"We took a look at our talent to see if there are roles where we could create hiring that didn't require a four-year degree," says Dawn Spreeman-Heine, managing director of commercial risk solutions at Aon. "We felt like that would boost our diversity and create a more diverse talent pipeline. At the same time, it would hopefully address an issue we had with attrition."

The programs are substantially different from internships — which are short term, part time, and don't necessarily lead to permanent jobs. The apprentices hired through the program would serve one or two years of paid on-the-job training with a path to permanent employment.

With all the work the two institutions put into creating their own programs, it became apparent that a network of support between companies — as well as other players — to create an ecosystem, as Gracy says.

"In this case, the ecosystem is the employers and the apprentices themselves – as well as the educators we get our talent from and the nonprofit partners that help surface the candidates," Gracy explains. "This is an ecosystem play about strengthening our pipelines, communities, and job opportunities."

With the launch, five founding members have joined the Greater Houston Apprenticeship Network: Dow Chemical, Whorley, Texas Mutual Insurance, Amazon Web Services, and University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. These companies have committed to creating apprenticeship positions within their institutions, as well as to promote the program to others.

As the initiative continues, interested companies can learn more online. The network is interested in bringing on companies of all sizes and across industries — whether a company wants to hire 100 apprentices or startup is looking to findjust one.

Gracy and Spreeman-Heine agree that — while the program was always intended to expand — the timing of the program launching in a time of economic growth amid the pandemic makes the plans even more relevant.

"Unfortunate events sometimes spur on some really great things. It's even more compelling now — and employers are hurting even more now trying to fill these roles," Spreeman-Heine says. "It's perfect timing."

The program hopes to bring more diverse workforces to Houston corporations — as well as eliminate the stigma of hiring non-four-year-degree employees.

"Nothing breeds success like success," Gracy says. "The more we have people come into these roles and be successful, then the more momentum that's going to build upon that."

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Building Houston

 
 

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity. Photo via Getty Images

Three big businesses — Air Liquide, BASF, and Shell — have added their firepower to the effort to promote large-scale carbon capture and storage for the Houston area’s industrial ecosystem.

These companies join 11 others that in 2021 threw their support behind the initiative. Participants are evaluating how to use safe carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at Houston-area facilities that provide energy, power generation, and advanced manufacturing for plastics, motor fuels, and packaging.

Other companies backing the CCS project are Calpine, Chevron, Dow, ExxonMobil, INEOS, Linde, LyondellBasell, Marathon Petroleum, NRG Energy, Phillips 66, and Valero.

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity.

“Large-scale carbon capture and storage in the Houston region will be a cornerstone for the world’s energy transition, and these companies’ efforts are crucial toward advancing CCS development to achieve broad scale commercial impact,” Charles McConnell, director of University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management in Energy, says in a news release.

McConnell and others say CCS could help Houston and the rest of the U.S. net-zero goals while generating new jobs and protecting current jobs.

CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from industrial activities that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and then injecting it into deep underground geologic formations for secure and permanent storage. Carbon dioxide from industrial users in the Houston area could be stored in nearby onshore and offshore storage sites.

An analysis of U.S Department of Energy estimates shows the storage capacity along the Gulf Coast is large enough to store about 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to more than 130 years’ worth of industrial and power generation emissions in the United States, based on 2018 data.

“Carbon capture and storage is not a single technology, but rather a series of technologies and scientific breakthroughs that work in concert to achieve a profound outcome, one that will play a significant role in the future of energy and our planet,” says Gretchen Watkins, U.S. president of Shell. “In that spirit, it’s fitting this consortium combines CCS blueprints and ambitions to crystalize Houston’s reputation as the energy capital of the world while contributing to local and U.S. plans to help achieve net-zero emissions.”

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