paths to employment

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

 
 

Optellum and Liongard have hired two new members to their executive teams. Photos courtesy

A couple of Houston tech startups have recently announced new appointments to their C-suites. A med tech company with its national headquarters in Houston has a new leader, and a Houston software has a new exec focused on strategy.

Optellum names new CEO

Jason Pesterfield will lead United States operations for Optellum. Photo courtesy of Optellum

Optellum, a medical software startup based in the United Kingdom and has its United States HQ in Houston, has appointed Jason Pesterfield as CEO to lead growth in the U.S. clinical market. Optellum AI-based software enhances early lung cancer diagnosis and therapy with its medical device software platform, Virtual Nodule Clinic.

Pesterfield was previously the president and CEO of Veran Medical Technologies, a leader in image-guided lung cancer diagnosis. He brings 25 years of leadership experience in the medtech sector. Optellum was founded by Václav Potěšil, Lyndsey Pickup, Timor Kadir, Professor Sir Mike Brady, and Jérôme Declerck.

"It took us almost a year to find the right successor who shares our vision and has the right expertise to take Optellum on to the next stage of growth," says Potěšil in a news release. "I am really excited to work with Jason, to make Optellum's platform available to every clinician in the USA and around the world, and to help them diagnose their lung cancer patients as early as possible. With Jason on board, I can focus on advancing Optellum's vision to transform early lung cancer therapy through partnerships that harness the power of AI software combined with molecular diagnostics, robotics and interventional devices, and drugs."

Liongard announces chief strategy officer

Patrick Schneidau is the chief strategy officer for Liongard. Photo courtesy

​Houston software-as-a-service company, Liongard, has named Patrick Schneidau as chief strategy officer. The company, founded in 2015, was a 2021 InnovationMap Awards finalist and reported that the team was looking to expand by around 70 new hires over the next year.

"Liongard is an incredible Houston growth story," Schneidau tells InnovationMap. "Our founders, Joe Alapat and Vincent Tran, have built a first-class team that allow technology service providers to operate at 10x by providing unprecedented insight and data into the systems deployed in the modern IT stack. In a rapidly growing market, they are quickly becoming 'must have' technology. I'm excited to join to team to accelerate their growth into new markets and with new products."

Schneidau spent over a decade at Houston-based PROS before serving in C-level positions at two other Houston startups — Commtrex and Truss. He's also previously served as talent committee chair for Houston Exponential.

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