We stand at the beginning of a new era in human resources. Global events thrust HR to the forefront to deal with complex workforce and business issues, and to do so virtually. We rose to the occasion, survived, and thrived. Now we are poised to move forward, and the new normal is ours to design. However, we are faced with some thought-provoking facts. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as of June of 2021:
- Ninety-one (91) percent of state and local chambers of commerce say worker shortages are holding back their economies.
- Eighty-three (83) percent of industry association economists say employers in their sectors are finding it more difficult to fill jobs than they were five years ago. [i]
You may have seen this in your own workplace and hiring practices: it is becoming more difficult to fill many positions. While personal experience informed by these statistics may cause concern, some promising new practices offer hope. One effective, “old” idea being repurposed is the concept of apprenticeships.
What is an apprenticeship? In its medieval form, young men would enter a profession as an apprentice, work his way up to a journeyman, and finally become a master able to own his own business and be a member of a guild of other masters in an industry. Today’s apprenticeships are much more sophisticated. Here is how apprenticeships work according to a description on the Department of Labor website:
“Apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job training with classroom instruction to prepare workers for highly-skilled careers. Workers benefit from apprenticeships by receiving a skills-based education that prepares them for good-paying jobs. Apprenticeship programs help employers recruit, build, and retain a highly-skilled workforce.” [ii]
Notice there are no educational, age, economic, social, or skill prerequisites to qualify for an apprenticeship. That is part of its allure. Apprenticeships draw adults from a variety of situations, contexts, age groups, and socio-economic brackets. Interested?
One organization that has leaned into apprenticeships is Accenture. Recently, I interviewed Pallavi Verma, Senior Managing Director of Quality & Risk, North America, who also oversees Accenture’s professional apprenticeship program. She described their apprenticeships as “real jobs, with real-world experience at a sustainable wage, most of the time on client-facing work.” The important thing is that it is a paid position within the structure for advancement within the organization.
You are probably wondering why Accenture decided to use this unique hiring approach? Pallavi indicated that first and foremost Accenture has an organizational culture that focuses on employees. In her own words, “Accenture is a people-based, people-focused organization. People are Accenture’s asset. Accenture looks for a diverse talent pool that extends beyond those with four-year degrees. Training is a core competency.” Of course, this makes sense because in an apprenticeship program you invest in individuals.
When asked, “What is the business case for apprenticeships?” Pallavi responded that apprentices offer a terrific advantage to Accenture in the level of diversity. Diversity of thought and backgrounds provide great advantages to an organization. Further, apprentices are highly motivated to succeed. “The individuals who come through the apprenticeship program are more loyal, there is a lower attrition rate. In other words, the appeal is ‘sticky’; apprentices tend to stay.”
I asked how Accenture handles the training for their apprentices, I was floored by the response. Pallavi said that in the past fiscal year (2019 to 2020), Accenture invested $866 million for learning and development for its employees. While that number is beyond reach for many of your organizations, the basics remain. The learning is both structured and on-the-job. During the pandemic, Accenture shifted to virtual on-the-job training for its apprentices. The adaptation included touchpoints, one-on-one with an advisor to maintain a close oversight. However, Accenture did not slow down or pause its apprenticeship program. Neither did Accenture stop paying the apprentices during the pandemic. Since many of the apprentices are sole providers for their families, they would otherwise have been more deeply impacted by COVID-19. Accenture realized that and continued to train and pay apprentices during the pandemic. Again, this is an example of Accenture’s commitment to its employees and their development.
For the program to succeed, you must ensure that you have correct leaders to supervise and the infrastructure to support apprenticeships, Pallavi emphasized. Cohorts are the approach that Accenture takes to training its apprentices. And feedback is incredibly important, so supervisors must be trained in how to provide structured feedback.
Finally, I asked what the keys are to the great success of Accenture’s apprenticeship program. Pallavi’s immediate response was that “Talent, organization, and training contribute to the success of this program. It is meaningful work that contributes to the organization. You have to select the right supervisors.”
To date, Accenture has trained more than 1,000 apprentices in the U.S. and Canada, and they are poised to continue growing the program as part of its entry-level talent strategy. To spread the apprenticeship movement beyond Accenture, the company has also teamed up with other partners, such as Aon and Zurich, to roll out apprentice networks of employers in Chicago, greater Washington, DC, Northern California, Houston, Minnesota, Philadelphia and elsewhere. The first, launched in 2017—the Chicago Apprentice Network—to date has more than 50 employers offering apprenticeships—each unique to their own organization’s needs.
I want to thank Pallavi Verma at Accenture, for the great information she provided about this wonderful, innovative apprenticeship approach to hiring. If you want to know more about how to establish an apprenticeship program at your place of work, here is the Department of Labor site.
I share this information with you because I believe Pallavi’s answers are relevant to you in your workplace. I will leave you with one final quote from her: “Apprenticeships change lives!”
Be innovative. Think outside the box. Consider the old idea that has become new again, apprenticeships.
[i] U.S. Chamber Launches Nationwide Initiative to Address National Worker Shortage Crisis and Help America’s Employers Fill Jobs | U.S. Chamber of Commerce (uschamber.com)