Employers 'Unlocking the Potential' of Apprenticeship for White-Collar Jobs

By Kathy Gurchiek Jun 1, 2017
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The Hartford welcomed 20 apprentices to its claims operations in May, with plans to bring 200 apprentices aboard by 2020. The Connecticut-based property and casualty insurance company is the latest example of an organization offering on-the-job paid training and mentoring for white-collar positions.

Apprentices in the two-year program will become eligible for full-time positions assisting customers in the company's claims centers in Phoenix or Windsor, Conn., after completing 61 credit hours of college coursework and 2,400 hours of paid, on-the-job training.

John Kinney, the company's chief claims officer, noted in a news release that its partnerships with local community colleges for the program will help the firm "recruit skilled claims professionals outside of the traditional college track, and students will gain education, training and a full-time position at a company where they can grow their career."

The concept of paid, on-the-job training traditionally has been the purview of manufacturers and trade organizations, 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. The Report, which covers innovations in education, is a project of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media at the Columbia University Teachers College in New York City.

In July 2015, for example, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and Switzerland signed a Joint Declaration of Intent to exchange policy information and best practices in vocational education and training. The DOL was interested in establishing an apprenticeship program based on the Swiss vocational education model. 

DOL Secretary Alexander Acosta said in a news release that The Hartford is an example of companies that are "unlocking the potential of apprenticeship, especially those industries that have newly adopted it as a training model."

Among those are Aon, a professional services company headquartered in London with offices in Chicago and Lincolnshire, Ill. Aon offers apprenticeships in human resources, technology and insurance. Participants are considered full-time employees and receive a salary, benefits, paid tuition to pursue an associate degree from a school Aon is partnered with and a mentor.

Zurich North America, which has U.S. headquarters in Schaumburg, Ill., was the first insurance apprenticeship program of its kind in the U.S. It is modeled after the program at the company's Switzerland headquarters. The U.S. program offers apprenticeships in underwriting and claims and includes weekly classes at a local college.

CVS Health piloted its apprenticeship program in Detroit in 2005. It has since partnered with organizations across the country, such as the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services and Wisconsin's Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards. It has placed more than 1,500 apprentices in retail pharmacy and management, according to the company. Former President Barack Obama recognized its efforts during his 2015 State of the Union Address.

Creating Apprenticeships

The federal government has certified apprenticeship programs for more than 75 years, according to the DOL, and there are more than 533,000 apprenticeships available in more than 1,000 occupations throughout the U.S. The Obama administration promoted apprenticeships as a way to bridge the so-called skills gap, and President Donald Trump is calling for the creation of 5 million apprenticeships within the next five years.

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

The Hartford is participating in the DOL's ApprenticeshipUSA program, which has a network of more than 150,000 employers and which the DOL describes as "an employer-driven model that combines on-the-job learning with related classroom instruction." As part of the program, the DOL provides tuition assistance through the American Apprenticeship Grant Initiative.

The Hartford is partnering with the Connecticut Department of Labor, the Arizona Department of Economic SecurityCapital Community College in Hartford and Rio Salado College in metropolitan Phoenix to offer an insurance-specific curriculum.

The DOL's Office of Apprenticeship offers the Quick Start Toolkit for creating an apprenticeship program and information on what an apprenticeship typically entails. During an event at the Swiss Embassy in November 2016 celebrating National Apprenticeship Week, Nancy Hoffman, Ph.D., vice president and senior advisor at Jobs for the Future in Boston, noted the following characteristics of a strong apprenticeship program:

  • Provides options that allow students to choose a career pathway, change industries, and move on to specialized certifications or higher education.
  • Prepares apprentices for modern occupations that have application to real-world problems.
  • Develops science, technology, engineering and math competencies and complex problem-solving, teamwork, communication and presentation skills.*Responds to the needs of adolescent development.

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