Companies Turn to Apprenticeships to Fill White-Collar Jobs

 

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek April 10, 2019
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​It may be spring break for many college students, but Alexis Martin already is settling in at her new job in the claims department of The Hartford, where she earns a starting salary of about $44,000 and has no student debt.

She graduated March 28 from the insurer's two-year Claims Apprentice Program and was one of eight students in the company's inaugural initiative. She now handles auto insurance-related damage claims in the Windsor, Conn., office.

"It was the best career move I ever made," she said of her apprenticeship. "They pay you while you're working and also offer good benefits—and tuition reimbursement if I wanted to go back to school" for an advanced degree. "It was like I hit the lottery."

Martin and her fellow graduates are among an increasing number of students who have entered white-collar apprenticeships.   

Alexis Martin.jpg
Apprenticeships typically are considered the training ground for blue-collar industries such as manufacturing and construction, but in recent years the U.S. has been looking to European models that "provide fast-tracked, on-the-job training in white-collar professions," according to The Hechinger Report, a project of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City.

A Way to Recruit Women and Minorities

The Hartford participates in the U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL's) registered apprenticeship program. Capital Community College in Hartford, Conn., where Martin majored in management, is among the schools around the U.S. the company partners with to offer an insurance-specific curriculum.  

Students in the programs at colleges The Hartford partners with graduate with no college debt. 

In Connecticut, apprentices can receive $3,500 in tuition assistance over two years from the DOL for insurance coursework. And in Florida and Arizona, apprenticeship programs pay the entire cost of tuition and books for qualifying students. Additionally, The Hartford pays up to $5,000 annually for tuition and offers tuition reimbursement to apprentices who do not qualify for other grants.

The apprenticeship program is a way for The Hartford to recruit women and people of color for customer-facing positions, said John Kinney, J.D., chief claims officer at the company's Hartford, Conn., office. Community colleges, he said, are nontraditional pipelines for talent "that nobody is tapping right now, especially in the insurance-industry role."

Mentoring is an important aspect of the apprenticeship, Kinney said. It's important, too, for companies to be thoughtful about how they scale their apprenticeship programs, as it takes time to create a program that's the right size for the organization. The Hartford's initiative began with an 18-month before rolling it out to the class that just graduated. The company's claims team worked with its community college partners in Connecticut, Florida and Arizona to build apprenticeship curricula and its HR generalists work with community colleges in those states to recruit students to the program.

Students entering the  program in May will already have accumulated 30 credit hours toward their associate degree. They will apprentice full time during the summer while earning $15 per hour and receiving full benefits. They will continue their coursework while apprenticing 20 to 25 hours a week during the fall 2019 and spring 2020 semesters while continuing to be paid and receiving full benefits. Another summer of full-time apprenticeship follows, during which participants will earn $15.50 per hour and receive benefits. 

They will complete any coursework during the 2020-21 school year while working full time in the company's claims department. Graduates who successfully complete the apprenticeship and attain a 3.0 grade point average will receive certification and a job at the office where they apprenticed.

Apprenticeships, Kinney noted, open students' eyes to career options, and "from an HR perspective, it helps having a centralized learning and training program."

Other White-Collar Apprenticeships 

Aon—a professional services company headquartered in London with offices in Chicago and Lincolnshire, Ill.—offers apprenticeships in human resources, technology and insurance. Students partner with a mentor, receive a salary and full benefits during training, and get free tuition at Aon-partner schools.

Working through the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council and partnering with Illinois Central College, employers in Peoria, Ill., developed the Central Illinois Center of Excellence for Secure Software. It is said to be the first secure software apprenticeship program in the nation. Apprentices are employed part time; at the end of 32 months, they test for IT certifications.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Using Government and Other Resources for Employment and Training Programs]

And CVS Health—which joined the U.S. Registered Apprenticeship system in 2005 with a program in Detroit—expanded its program to other states. In 2017 it set a goal of hiring 5,000 new apprentices by 2022, and in 2018 it became the first U.S. company to sponsor a program in Maryland for pharmacy technician and pharmacy manager roles.

"As the skills gap in the U.S. widens, CVS Health recognizes the important role apprenticeships—which offer on-the-job training with classroom instruction—play in building a pipeline of future skilled talent," said David Casey, CVS Health vice president of workforce strategies and chief diversity officer, in a news release.  

Not all apprenticeships are affiliated with colleges and universities. New York City-based public relations firm Prosek Partners takes a different approach. It offers a four-month program for people who have a college degree and a strong interest in financial services, professional services, technology and business-to-business communications.

"Many employees join us with nontraditional PR backgrounds, including those who worked in or studied journalism, political science, English, psychology, economics," said Karen Niovitch Davis, partner and chief human resource officer. Many of Prosek Partners' apprentices have minimal or no experience in financial services, she added.

"We have found that our apprentice program allows us to educate on both PR and financial services in a curriculum setting, thus allowing them to apply these lessons in real time to the account work they are doing."

Each apprentice is paired with a manager, who identifies the person's strengths and areas for development; a mentor; and a "buddy" to help them develop media-relations skills.

Apprentices in the firm's New York City, Boston and Fairfield, Conn., offices work a 40-hour week, receive an hourly wage, are assigned to three to five client teams and attend weekly boot camps taught by employees who focus on public relations and financial services topics.

"Our apprentices do much of the work that our assistant account executives do, but with training wheels on," Davis said. They undergo a formal review at two months with their managers and a member of HR, to receive feedback and discuss areas for development before the apprenticeship concludes.

"Our program has been incredibly successful," and since launching in 2015 "has allowed us to hire more than 91 percent of our apprentices in a full-time position," she said. Prosek Partners has about 175 employees, approximately 40 percent of whom are former interns or apprentices. 

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