Aon, a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk, retirement and health solutions, offers an apprenticeship program that provides students without a traditional four-year college degree an entry point to launch a professional career at Aon.

Like many large firms, Aon previously required a four-year college degree for all positions. When looking at how this requirement shrunk the talent pool, the firm realized that it had become habit to require a four-year degree for all positions when it wasn’t always necessary. Even those coming into Aon with four-year degrees still required additional training and investment; and despite that investment, employee turnover was high in some entry-level positions.

Based on these insights, Aon piloted its U.S. apprenticeship program in Chicago in 2017. Aon’s two-year program combines academic instruction at a local community college with employment at Aon while receiving on-the-job learning. Apprentices spend 40 hours per week, split between working and attending classes to complete their associate’s degree. Aon covers salary, benefits, tuition, fees and books.

After two years, apprentices graduate from the program, complete with a graduation ceremony, associate’s degree, U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) certificate and a promotion out of their apprentice role into a permanent full-time position. Aon values internal promotions and helps support colleagues in receiving additional training, certifications and tuition reimbursement beyond the apprenticeship to help their colleagues grow within the company and achieve their career goals.

The company is currently onboarding 119 apprentices across the country for the 2021 cohort, with 12 in their Bloomington, MN office. Apprentices in the start at a base salary of $32,000 a year ($15.32 per hour) and receive semi-annual evaluations in which they are also eligible for performance-based pay raises. Aon hires apprentices throughout the firm, in functional roles spanning data and information technology, project management, client service and business support. These include client-facing roles, as well as corporate and operations functions. The 2021 apprentice cohort will be remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which will be reassessed over time.

Another key piece of Aon’s apprenticeship program is the wrap-around support apprentices receive from their career navigator, which is a representative from a local, nonprofit organization that specializes in upskilling and workforce development. This serves as a built-in support system for everything personal, professional, and educational. Many apprentices may be first-generation college students, unfamiliar with corporate customs and culture, or ill-equipped to balance school and work. By providing resources and advocates, apprentices gain valuable skills and coaching throughout the entire program.

In addition to Aon’s own apprenticeship program, the firm is leading efforts with other organizations to build local apprentice networks that expand apprenticeship opportunities to cities across the U.S. Aon is building relationships with other employers, schools and government officials to promote the benefits of apprenticeship opportunities and help other companies start their own programs.

Colleges involved in these programs have benefited as well, noting greatly increased retention and graduation rates of students in apprenticeship programs. By compensating employees to pursue their post-secondary education, apprenticeships also create organizational loyalty and decreased staff attrition, making apprenticeships a win-win-win for employers, employees, educational institutions and the broader community.

Aon recently held a virtual kick-off event to launch the Minnesota Apprentice Network with opening remarks from Senator Amy Klobuchar and Aon CEO Greg Case. Together, Aon and Network members are  enthusiastic about continuing to promote the success of the apprenticeship model. For more information about Aon’s apprenticeship program, click here.

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