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New Apprenticeship 2020 program lets Chicago students skip 4-year degree

Aon is one of the companies involved in Aprenticeship2020. I Associated Press

Aon is one of the companies involved in Aprenticeship2020. I Associated Press

City officials and business leaders on Tuesday announced a new apprenticeship program designed to create a pipeline for Chicago students to enter the corporate world.

The initiative, Apprenticeship 2020, plans to build on a relationship already created between City Colleges of Chicago and a few corporations in the city.

That previous partnership between City Colleges and Aon and Accenture started five years ago and grew into the Chicago Apprenticeship Network. The program hired its first apprentices in 2017.

The plan was to create a viable alternative to a pricey four-year university degree by having students work toward an associate’s degree while completing a two-year apprenticeship at a business.

The first 25 Aon apprentices graduated in December after studying a new curriculum at City Colleges centered around insurance and finance. They are now working full-time.

Now, more companies are joining the effort and creating Apprenticeship 2020.

“This is completely a story of collaboration,” Aon CEO Greg Case said at the announcement event. “Talk is cheap. Everybody can talk about things.”

Case pointed to building the new curriculum and bucking the trend of students spending thousands to attend four-year universities as ways the group aims to “evolve the system.”

Case also thanked the various foundations that helped bring the program together, and he called Mayor Rahm Emanuel “a real friend and thought leader in this overall effort.”

“For all these companies, there’s a great race to scour the earth for talent. Whoever gets talent is going to be the winner,” Emanuel said at the event. “While you’ll continue to go on your recruitment drives … to either coast to find talent, many times you’ll find that the best talent is right in front of you in your own neighborhood, your own backyard.”

Part of the plan includes a $1.25 million investment by the companies in City Colleges to continue building new curriculum and foundational support.

Ed Richardson, 27, was part of the first group of apprentices that graduated in December.

He grew up on the South Side and moved away for high school, then worked as a security guard when he moved back to Chicago. Realizing he was in a dead-end job, Richardson went to Harold Washington College and worked as an apprentice with Aon.

Now he’s a full-time reinsurance broker, and he wants people to know the path he took is an option that works.

“A lot of people don’t understand. They might see it and say, ‘Oh, corporate America, I’m not ready,'” Richardson said. “This is for you. The experiences you’ve had in life up to this point, not being able to afford something, that’s what built you. It’s a place to learn and grow.”