Push for More Apprenticeships in Chicago Insurance and Financial Industries

In its Chicago office in January, global investment firm Aon plans to launch an apprenticeship program, reviving a traditional training method as a way to nurture skilled workers and grow the talent pool.

Another investment firm, Zurich North America, which started its first class of apprentices in Schaumburg earlier this year, and Aon brought together Chicago-area leaders from 15 major firms to discuss creating an apprenticeship system. Such systems in the insurance and finance industries are common in Europe.

The effort is supported by the Labor Department, especially as the federal government seeks to double the amount of apprenticeships by 2019.

This is considered particularly relevant with jobs going unfilled due to lack of skilled workers and the rising student debt crisis. Unlike, for instance, the U.S. goods and services exports, which supported an estimated 9.7 million jobs in 2011, insurance and financial services find themselves with a shortage of new talent.

The industry plans to partner with community colleges, hoping to draw from its talent pool. Aon currently has a partnership with City Colleges of Chicago, where it will launch its apprentice program starting in 2017.

“If the pipeline is only through four-year colleges, then you are missing out,” said Bridget Gainer, the vice president of global public affairs for Aon. She added, “Let’s change the pipeline to fit what’s out there.”

The Monday meeting was designed to interest other companies in the apprenticeship program, including JPMorgan Chase, Northern Trust, Mesirow Financial, and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The Labor Department awarded $175 million to 46 grantees that have promised to pledge, train, and hire more than 34,000 apprentices in diverse industries. Part of this massive effort is overcoming and “reversing a cultural shift” that has stigmatized apprenticeships and other vocational programs to second their status in the minds of many Americas, said Deputy Labor Secretary Chris Lu.