CHICAGO — The Chicago Apprentice Network started four years ago with a challenge from Chicago’s mayor at the time; would you hire some kids from City Colleges of Chicago to work at your blue chip company?
The network started with a few businesses and now includes more than 50 employers who have hired 1,000 apprentices. The goal is to hire them permanently and give students without a four year degree a shot at the corporate world .
Jim Coleman, the senior managing director at Accenture in Chicago, says the program is working.
“This isn’t a philanthropic program,” he said. “This is a ‘You earn, you contribute and you learn.’”
Coleman manages 6,000 people at Accenture’s global management consulting firm, a giant in the industry. He runs the Chicago office. But he and Ahmad Aladawi, a young man who arrived in the states only seven years ago, are on a first name basis these days.
“Ahmad is a wonderful young man,” Coleman said. “He came to this country from Syria. He knew no one.”
In 2017, Aladawi was attending Wilbur Wright College, one of the seven City Colleges of Chicago. He was in search of a better life for him and his family. That’s where he learned Accenture was hiring apprentices to help with internal duties, like IT work, security and coding. It was Aladawi’s dream.
He had landed in Chicago only three years earlier at the age of 20 along with his parents and sister Lana. His ambition and drive to succeed got him an apprenticeship at Accenture and in the good graces with all those he worked with especially Coleman.
“He’s an individual who gets the job done,” Coleman said.
The position got Aladawi a paycheck, full time benefits and a chance at a full time job when the one year program was over.
“For sure it was life changing,” Aladawi said. “It was a turning point in my career. It inspired me to work harder than ever before.”
Aladawi flourished at Accenture. He’s was hired full time and has already been promoted twice. Now he is able to provide for his family. He is now a senior security analyst.
“I just had in my mind that I want to work hard and prove myself,” Aladawi said. “My parents taught me that if you want something, and you will work for it, you will see the whole world helping you to get it.”
In just a few years, the Chicago Apprentice Network — which was co-founded with companies Aon and Zurich North America — has expanded to include dozens of other employers.
There are now 1,000 apprentices to date, all from the City Colleges of Chicago, many of them first generation college students.
“We think that number equates to tens of millions, approaching a hundred million dollars, of economic value for the city,” Coleman said.
Coleman said he is proud of what the apprentice program stands for, soft and hard skills for both the company and the apprentices it’s hired.
“I think we learn from the apprentices as much as they learn from us,” Coleman said. “It’s opened our eyes to the fact that we can hire in different ways, look in different places for talent, drive more diversity into our organization and that’s a win for our company.”
It is a win for Aladawi too. He is an ambassador for the program consisting of coaching, mentoring and more support than he ever could have imagined just a few years ago when he arrived in a city he didn’t know, with a language he didn’t speak.
Now, Aladawi said he couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.
“I really want to see myself as Accenture leadership,” he said. “I want to make these opportunities even bigger for people like me who have potential and want to work hard. … Give them the same tremendous support I got. …. I want to be like the second Jim maybe.”
Aladawi went on to get his four-year college degree at University of Illinois – Chicago. But he isn’t stopping there. He wants to further his education.
As for the program, visit Chicagoapprenticenetwork.org for more information on how to sign up as a business looking to be a part of an apprentice program or if you are a student looking to embark on a career.