paths to employment
Houston business leaders join forces to create innovative apprenticeship program
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."