CHICAGO – Victor Gutierrez graduated from high school with a clear career goal: to become an actuary. What he didn't have was a clear path to get there.
Juggling community college with jobs at McDonald's and a Holiday Inn, Gutierrez had little time for his studies. He worked nearly every day, leaving home at 4 a.m. and returning at midnight, always exhausted and rarely seeing his wife and infant daughter.
Gutierrez told his counselor at Harold Washington College, part of the City Colleges of Chicago system, that he needed another way. As it happened, one had just become available.
Gutierrez is now in the first apprenticeship class at Aon, a global insurance and risk management giant, where he is paid to work and go to school as he pursues his associate degree in business management, with the hope of eventually getting a bachelor's in actuarial science.
"It's a complete life-changer," Gutierrez, 18, said as he sat in the gray suit and tie he wears to work each day in Aon's downtown skyscraper.
Apprenticeships, which in the U.S. are often the domain of the skilled trades, are gaining traction in financial services, one of several white-collar industries the U.S. Department of Labor is pushing to adopt the earn-and-learn model to give a way into a good-paying career without loads of student debt.
Efforts to grow apprenticeships have bipartisan support. The Obama administration set a goal of doubling apprenticeships to 750,000 by 2019 and distributed $265 million in grants to expand and create programs. President Donald Trump has not presented formal initiatives yet but has expressed support for apprenticeships.
Aon's two-year program recruits high school graduates for positions that traditionally have gone to those with bachelor's degrees. Apprentices work four days a week at Aon and spend one day taking classes at community college. By the end they'll have their associate's degrees and offers for permanent positions at the company. Aon pays the apprentices $38,500 a year plus their tuition, and gives them benefits.
Aon is among a small but growing group of financial firms that have registered apprenticeships with the Department of Labor, meaning their programs meet standards for training curriculum. Zurich USA launched an apprenticeship at its suburban Chicago offices last year, JPMorgan Chase has a pilot in Texas, the Hartford in April launched programs in Connecticut and Arizona, and Wells Fargo has an apprenticeship in development, according to the Department of Labor.