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Shay Robinson of Aon: Shaping the Workforce through Apprenticeships



Shay Robinson

Public Affairs Manager for Global Ecosystems and Apprenticeship Programs

Aon


In 2017, Aon launched an apprenticeship program that allows apprentices to earn an Associate degree while developing vital workplace skills and receiving full-time benefits as an Aon colleague. Continue reading to learn more about how a network of partner organizations is providing support for apprentices in Chicago.


Tell me about your role at Aon.


As Public Affairs Manager for Global Ecosystems and Apprenticeship Programs, I help support employers as they stand up apprenticeship programs in each Apprentice Network. The role of the network is to create, coordinate, and expand apprenticeship programs in new industries across the region to build awareness and excitement around apprenticeship programs, and then work with companies sharing best practices to build similar programs to fit their needs. I aim to ensure that each city has a sustainable foundation built around non-profit organizations, educational partners, additional employers, and government officials. There are currently nine Apprentice Networks: Chicago, Detroit, Greater Washington, D.C., Houston, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Northern California and New York City.


Tell me about the Aon Apprenticeship Program.


Recognizing the need to foster a talent pipeline that is agile enough to attract

career starters and switchers, Aon launched a U.S. Department of Labor-certified Apprenticeship Program in 2017. To apply, applicants must be 18 or older and possess a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Internally, we began to evaluate that across all areas of our business. And we identified roles where we could remove the four-year degree barrier – because those roles need skills, but not a four-year degree.

Over the two-year program, apprentices earn a salary and benefits while pursuing an

associate degree with a concentration in business from an accredited partner

community college in each Apprentice Network. Apprentices are full-time Aon

colleagues, dedicating 40 hours per week to their apprenticeship, with part of the week

spent working at Aon and the other part spent attending classes. Aon covers tuition

costs, books and fees, while non-profit partners foster a system of support outside of the workplace.


Aon works internally and externally to build a network of support for apprentices,

collaborating with community-based organizations to support an apprentice with

employment, skilling, and wraparound support services.


Once they complete their degree, if the apprentice has performed on the job as well as academically, they continue as full-time Aon colleagues. We have an 80% retention rate since our inception, which I think really shows the effectiveness of apprenticeships.


How did the apprenticeship program begin?


One of my mentors, Bridget Gainer, tells the story of how she could see Harold Washington College from her office window. And it occurred to her, why don’t we recruit from there? Wouldn't it be great to employ people from the local area? With that notion, Aon considered what roles don’t require a four-year degree, as well as those that have a

high turnover rate. Internally, we began to evaluate that across all areas of our

business. And we identified roles where we could remove the four-year degree barrier –

because those roles need skills, but not a four-year degree.


Tell me about your partnerships with educational partners in Chicago.


We work with The City Colleges of Chicago to build a curriculum that allows apprentices

to complete their studies while applying their knowledge in the workplace.

Significant progress can also be made when organizations come together and focus their efforts on the support the talent needs.

City Colleges helps with recruiting students into the Aon Apprenticeship Program as

well as operating as a convener and sustainability partner for the Chicago Apprentice

Network.


Do you work with any other organizations to source talent in Chicago?


We work with several organizations to source talent for the apprenticeship program,


One Million Degrees has been an organization that we started working with at the program’s inception. Their participation has helped to shape the model for other organizations across the Apprenticeship Network. One Million Degrees provides career navigators for each apprentice in the program. Career Navigators work with apprentices to ensure that they have the necessary support to balance work, school, and personal demands. They maintain a relationship with apprentices throughout the program duration and provide ongoing guidance and professional development.


What role do apprentices typically move into? Do the positions have a career

path associated with them?


We offer apprenticeships in human resources, finance, client support and information

technology. Upon successful completion of the program, apprentices move into full-time

positions as data analysts or account specialists, for example. These positions have

career paths associated with them that allow for growth across many areas of our

business.


How do you believe Chicagoland employers should contribute to addressing

poverty and inequality in Chicago?


Employers should do the work to understand what causes inequality in their

communities, because this will make them better able to address it. Understanding the

barriers that are in place that preclude people from entering your organization will result in designing better solutions that address the root of the issue.


Significant progress can also be made when organizations come together and focus

their efforts on the support the talent needs. Our apprenticeship program was designed to embody that belief. By implementing this model, it becomes much easier for everyone to align around the talent that we are all hoping to uplift.



It's also part of my role to help make sure that each of the Apprentice Networks has a

sustainable model built around nonprofits, educational partners, other employers, and

government officials that help amplify the message to additional employers. In this way,

I share the good news about the value of apprenticeships to other employers. We offer

our HR expertise, legal expertise, etc. to help other companies start their own

apprenticeship programs.

If you come from a background where you have a family of lawyers, you have a family of doctors, and you have a clear path, then you have someone pulling you up. That is not the reality for most people entering the workforce.

Why is working with entry-level talent important to you personally?


I am a first-generation college graduate who has overcome many challenges along my

journey, accomplishing my goals while following a nonlinear path. I started in community college. By age 23, I’d earned my bachelor’s degree and MBA, while also working a full-time job. But I still faced barriers to entry for a salaried job because of my age and my lack of work experience. Despite this, I’ve worked diligently, always holding true to my values and picking up nuggets of wisdom along the way to pass to those who are on the journey now. In my current role, I’m able to connect with and learn from our apprentices, and it truly makes the experience great.


If you come from a background where you have a family of lawyers, you have a family

of doctors, and you have a clear path, then you have someone pulling you up. That is

not the reality for most people entering the workforce. And so, it becomes personal to

me because I've had a very zigzag experience. It's more than a job to me. It's a passion and a way of life.








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