A group of Boston business leaders on Wednesday launched what it calls the Massachusetts Apprentice Network to create a pipeline for careers at office employers for people without four-year degrees and other nontraditional candidates.
The effort is an outgrowth of an apprenticeship program created in 2016 at the Chicago office of IT giant Accenture, a program that was quickly broadened to include other major employers in that city. Accenture has since launched similar networks in five other places and is now helping to start this one in Massachusetts.
The founders of the Massachusetts network say they’re committed to creating 1,000 apprenticeships within five years among the network’s original five employers — Accenture, Beth Israel Lahey Health, Cengage, Liberty Mutual, and Wayfair — as well as others they hope to draw into the fold. The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and the Massachusetts Business Roundtable are helping coordinate the efforts.
Though the precise definition can vary somewhat, in general, apprenticeships differ from internships in that they are always paying jobs and are designed to provide skills instruction that lead to a full-time position after a set period, usually six months or a year. They’re often tailored for people without college degrees or for those who are trying to switch careers.
“It’s about companies rethinking where they are sourcing their talent from and getting rid of some of the barriers that institutionally exist,” said Pallavi Verma, who leads Accenture’s Boston office.
Greater Boston Chamber chief executive Jim Rooney said these jobs can help his members broaden their talent pools to prevent worker shortages and diversify their staffs.
“It really fits with the strategic priorities of the business community to nurture and create the 21st-century workforce that Boston needs to sustain its growth,” Rooney said.
Maura Quinn, an assistant vice president at Liberty Mutual, said the Boston insurer already has about 40 to 50 apprentices through several existing programs. Liberty Mutual hopes to double that number this year, as part of its participation in the new network. Liberty Mutual also typically has several interns each year from Bunker Hill Community College’s “Learn and Earn” program, established about a decade ago by the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership.
“There has been a seismic shift from the historical [approach]: you need a four-year degree, it has to be from this type of institution, you have to have a certain GPA,” Quinn said. “Those things do not necessarily make the best type of employee anymore. There are lots of things that can shape an individual’s success within an organization.”
This new apprenticeship effort was launched in part because Verma moved in early 2020 to Boston from Chicago, where she helped shepherd the program on Accenture’s behalf. Verma, who is now on the Boston chamber’s board of directors, approached Rooney about getting other companies involved here. The concept was originally launched in Chicago after then-mayor Rahm Emanuel called on big employers to hire more young workers from nontraditional backgrounds or particular neighborhoods. More than 70 Chicago-area companies have since participated, Verma said. Accenture’s Chicago team also coauthored a playbook of sorts that provides apprenticeship guidelines for other employers to follow.
“We recognized there was a whole talent pool that we weren’t going after, and we should be,” Verma said. “In order for us to get the best talent on the planet, we realized we needed to widen the aperture.”
Accenture’s apprenticeship program has been a godsend for Michael Rai, who works in data and analytics at the firm. The Providence resident quit his job at a human resources company to pursue a career in tech but had a hard time landing a job despite applying for dozens of them. Then he heard about Accenture’s program. He landed a six-month apprenticeship at Accenture’s Boston office in 2019 and eventually got a permanent job there.
“It was one of the scariest things I’ve done in my life, to leave the security of a job and step into the unknown,” Rai said. “Without this apprenticeship program, I would never have had an opportunity to work for a company like Accenture.”