Next week is National Apprenticeship Week (Nov 14-20), a designation that aims to highlight how apprenticeships, a proven and industry-driven training model, provide a critical talent pipeline that can help to address some of our nation’s pressing workforce challenges. Increasingly employers, community colleges and university degree programs are recognizing the value of apprenticeship programs. The Department of Labor runs a registered apprenticeship program, as do many state and local agencies.
Accenture’s North America Apprenticeship Program has been a success story since its establishment in 2016. With more than 2,000 apprentices and program graduates across North America, the apprenticeship program places the company at the forefront of the national movement for professional apprenticeship programs.
We spoke with Accenture leaders about the impact of the apprenticeship program on creating meaningful momentum within the company and the communities where people live and work. Joining the conversation are Pallavi Verma, senior managing director and executive sponsor of the firm’s apprentice program; Wendy Myers Cambor, managing director and North America head of Future Talent; and Kara Gooch, an apprenticeship program graduate now in a thriving career at Accenture.
Wendy, why do you think apprenticeship programs are needed now more than ever before?
WENDY MYERS CAMBOR: Put simply, professional apprenticeships help to address opportunity gaps for workers and talent gaps for employers. When it comes to skilled workers for current jobs, companies are facing a dire and increasing supply-demand imbalance: Employers are short-staffed and struggling to fill roles, projects are delayed, new products are on hold and employee retention is challenged. Our study with the Harvard Business School’s Project on Managing the Future of Work found that millions of people are eager to work and have the ability to participate in the workforce, if only employers could find them. We’ve got to work together to solve this – now. Professional apprenticeships can be part of the solution: they provide companies with access to a diverse, talented and motivated talent pool, while creating new opportunities, sustainable career growth and real economic opportunity for workers.
Pallavi, how does the Accenture apprenticeship program work… for example, what type of jobs do apprentices do?
PALLAVI VERMA: We have a “learn and earn” model, which means apprentices receive market-based wages and benefits as they prepare to take on roles at our organization. These range from digital and data analytics to cloud migration to cyber-security work – all areas, as you can see, are likely to be in demand for some time. Apprentices have the option to train in various career tracks ranging from client-facing roles to our internal IT group (which we call our CIO group) and within our corporate functions.
Since launching our program in 2016, Accenture has brought on more than 2,000 apprentices in 40 cities across North America.
Kara, you’re an apprentice “graduate” and current Accenture employee, tell us about your journey.
KARA GOOCH: Before I joined Accenture, I was a digital marketer. And I had dreams of other roles: Could I build my own website? Could I make an app? I didn’t have the technical skills and I didn’t have a degree to get me in the door at a company that might teach me how to do that. At the same time, I had ambition and responsibilities – young girls to raise, bills to pay, choices to make: do I pay the electric bill or get internet?
I took my first steps towards my dream career when I applied to an IT support certification program sponsored by Google and Goodwill – that kickstarted everything – it helped me build the confidence I needed to start applying for roles at the tech companies I always aspired to work at. And the very day I finished the Google/Goodwill certificate program, I received a phone call from Accenture to join the apprenticeship program. I worked hard. A year later, I was offered a full-time role.
Pallavi, is offering a job always on the table?
PALLAVI: Our apprenticeship program typically lasts 12 months and culminates in an ongoing career opportunity at Accenture. We’ve hired an overwhelming majority of individuals who completed the apprenticeship program into full-time roles. This is possible because the apprenticeship program is embedded in our talent and business strategy. As part of our commitment to growing and scaling professional apprenticeships, we set a goal to fill 20% of our entry-level roles in North America through the Apprenticeship Program for the fiscal year 2022. We are proud to share that we have met that goal and look to continue maintaining that goal going forward.
We also recognize that the impact of the apprenticeship program extends beyond the individuals who participate in it; their families’ lives are often positively impacted. It’s even more relevant today than ever as COVID-19 continues to disproportionately affect those without college and high school degrees.
What advice would you give incoming apprentices to ensure they thrive?
KARA: Advocate for yourself. Look beyond your current network and branch out! Do your own research. Accenture has countless resources for countless topics. If you can think of it, there’s a high percentage someone else has as well. There are more resources than are given on an onboarding slide. Be willing to look. And when you find them, share them! That’s where the network grows, and you begin to build your personal brand.
Accenture is helping other companies set up similar programs, tell us about that.
WENDY: We are indeed helping other employers – including our clients – create professional apprenticeship programs based on the best practices we’ve established through our own successful model. We have launched nine local Apprentice Networks bringing together more than 130 employers along with government agencies, talent organizations and community colleges in Chicago, Detroit, Greater Washington DC, Houston, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Northern California, Philadelphia – and in NYC through integrated efforts with OneTen and the NY Jobs CEO Council. We published a national professional apprenticeship playbook to help companies jumpstart and inform their own programs.
What advice do you give other organizations to ensure they set up programs to enable success?
PALLAVI: Successful apprenticeship programs have unambiguous support from the top. Your CEO and C-suite need to buy into the program and send clear signals that the apprenticeship program is important. For example, take our 20% target – we committed to hiring 20% of our entry-level roles in 2022 from the apprenticeship program. We set the same goal again this year. Making this a company-wide goal sets the tone. This supports the effort to pursue alternative strategies for identifying and developing talent.
WENDY: Skills are skills, regardless of how they are acquired. A “skills-first” talent strategy can enable companies to reach, recruit and retain more diverse talent pools efficiently and effectively while reducing the reliance on a college degree as a proxy to assess if a candidate has – or is motivated to learn – the skills to do a job.
KARA: I’m an example of that – and I would say identifying people who are truly interested, passionate, about work matters.
PALLAVI: I agree. Also, companies need to remember when recruiting, we are always our own best advertisers, networkers and advocates. I can talk about the program endlessly, but Kara lived it.
To that end, Kara, any parting pieces of advice?
KARA: Yes, give yourself grace. If you join an apprenticeship program like Accenture’s at a company of more than 700,000 people, you’re entering a company that’s bigger than you realize. Accenture touches almost every corner of the world. It’s okay to feel lost at times but don’t stay there for long! Get help when you need it! So, for example, at Accenture, you can lean into your Mental Health Allies and seek resources. If you’re at an apprenticeship program in another company that doesn’t have Mental Health Allies – look externally to organizations like Thrive. This world needs you more than it needs your production.