“I decided not to go to university purely due to the cost,” says Jonathan Catley, Client Services Apprentice, Aon. “Tuition fees are astronomical and I didn’t want to be saddled with debt without the right training to succeed in my job. I wanted a better way to prepare for the working world.”
The cost of going to university has been rising steadily for decades, with more and more young people leaving higher education with substantial debts that could take years to pay off. In the US, the average student debt is over $30,000, while in parts of the UK it can be as much as £40,000 ($49,000).
Moreover, since the financial crisis, youth unemployment has been at an all-time high globally, making it harder than ever to find good jobs to pay off debts. At the same time, organizations are facing serious skills shortages around the world.
To address these issues, Aon applied a new approach to an old solution: on-the-job training through apprenticeships programs. Launched in 2012 in the UK and now available in the US, Aon’s apprenticeship program provides opportunities for young professionals to develop vital skills in the workplace and earn a competitive salary while they learn. Apprentices are offered permanent positions with competitive salaries and full support for professional study and qualifications.
“What attracted me to the apprenticeship program was that I could earn and learn at the same time,” says Zeenat Chady, an apprentice at Aon. “It’s so valuable to be able to work for Aon and still receive a highly-regarded qualification that, in the past, I would have to go to university for.”
The apprenticeship program has helped Aon build an alternative talent pipeline and a highly skilled and diverse workforce. “The jobs of the future will require us to rethink our training and recruitment practices,” says Julie Page, Chief Executive Officer, Aon Risk Solutions UK. “Apprenticeships are a way for us to attract the best and brightest while providing young professionals with the opportunity to earn the education and work experience needed to succeed.”
But this wasn’t just about boosting Aon’s own talent pool – the aim was to inspire action across the professional and financial services industries by changing perceptions of what apprenticeships could be, and attracting workers with diverse backgrounds.
“People tend to associate apprenticeships with traditional trade careers,” explains Julie Hyett, Head of Talent, Aon UK. “We want to demonstrate that apprenticeships are not only relevant, but can help create a more diverse and highly skilled workforce in the professional services space.”
When the UK government called on the financial services sector to double the number of apprenticeships in 2013, Aon led the way in establishing a systematic framework for skills development to ensure all apprentices can expect the same rigorous training across the industry. As Nick Boles, MP and Minister of State for Skills, puts it: “I’m delighted that the insurance industry, led by Aon, has developed a new apprenticeship standard for practitioners.”
Aon’s UK apprenticeship program has been so successful that the firm is introducing similar schemes in the US, starting at their regional headquarters for the Americas in Chicago, Illinois. “The apprenticeship program has widened our recruiting pool and enabled us to build a more diverse and motivated team,” explains Bridget Gainer, Vice President of Global Public Affairs, Aon. “We’re excited to invest in the generation of talent in Chicago.” Aon hopes to encourage the business community to develop similar programs and help jumpstart the careers of many more deserving individuals.
1. The Student Room / AIA Worldwide, School Leaver Survey Research: The Results, 2014
2. The Student Room / AIA Worldwide, School Leaver Survey Research: The Results, 2014