Is Hiring Limiting Your Business’s Growth? Try This.


“Our growth is paced by the talent we can attract, not by demand.” Given this reality, CEO of Accenture North America, Jimmy Etheredge, is thinking a lot about how to attract talent. People across the business recognize his focus on people and culture. 

And what he’s doing is working: the business is growing faster than it ever has, across service areas. 

Well, lucky Jimmy, you might be thinking. I could grow a business with the momentum of over 50,000 employees and nearly $7 billion in revenue too.

But growing an existing business is not the game Etheredge and his team are playing. Accenture’s 2020 report, Care to Do Better, presented their research showing that 64% of our performance at work is determined by our holistic wellbeing in six categories, including Emotional and Purposeful, as well as Financial. 

As well as helping clients navigate how to apply this finding, Accenture’s Global CEO, Julie Sweet, along with Etheredge and the rest of her leadership team, walk this talk. Here’s what they recommend to CEOs looking to win today’s talent war.

Where To Find Talent?

All employers can relate to the challenge of attracting candidates in this Great Resignation market, no matter what you can pay or how flexible your working environment is. Further, it’s hard to find candidates who are qualified for the work to be done, as industries change faster than training can possibly keep up. Many lack the agility, resilience, communication skills, and/or creativity to manage that rate of change successfully.

One of Accenture’s most headline-worthy adaptations to this context is their target to hire 20% of 2022 entry-level roles through their Apprenticeship program, up from 15% last year. 

Apprentices are unique among Accenture’s prestigious and competitive applicant pool because they are hired into professional roles, including technical and client-facing ones, without a four-year degree. It’s a 12-month ‘learn and earn’ program, in which Apprentices are paid a market wage and also provided with flexibility and mentors to navigate internal training at Accenture as well as their formal education at a community or four-year college. 

Arzo Aryan began as an apprentice in May 2019. She finished her community college degree in June of that year, and then transferred credits to George Mason University to earn her BA that August. Accenture fully supported her studies, providing a mentor to help her balance the demands of work and school. 

Aryan “didn’t consider anything else” when Accenture made her a full-time offer after she graduated from the apprentice program in May 2020. Further, her Accenture salary means that she will graduate this June with a degree in Information Systems and Operations Management without any loans.

How Did Such An Idea Start? 

The program began as a small pilot in Chicago, in partnership with Aon and its CEO, Greg Case. Case and other local leaders had been working with city government officials, community colleges, and not-for-profits like YearUp, on the city’s youth unemployment challenge. They piloted the program with 10 Apprentices and quickly saw the win-win-win for the new hires, Aon’s business, and also the communities where these young professionals and their colleagues lived.

A playbook was built quickly, and Case and colleagues traveled to Northern California, Houston, Washington DC, and Minneapolis to help establish the program in other cities. They establish similar cross-sector conversations, engaging city officials, community colleges, and not-for-profits to ensure that the program works for everyone involved.

Is The Apprentice Program Working – For Accenture And the Apprentices?

In a word, yes. Aryan said, “The Accenture Apprenticeship has totally changed the trajectory of my career.” On the day she got her full-time offer, after a successful Apprenticeship, her dad took her hands, looked her in the eye, and told her, “This is exactly what you’ve been working toward. Our whole struggle has been for this.” 

He was referring to the choice he and Aryan’s mother made to immigrate to the US from Afghanistan a dozen years ago, and the struggle they’ve pursued since then as high school graduates making a life in a new country.

That is just the kind of story that looks superb on a Corporate Social Responsibility report. But that is not where Etheredge is filing these anecdotes and the data about the Apprenticeship program. He sees it as a critical and innovative talent strategy that will enable the firm to grow its business in the way it hopes to.

The Apprentices are thriving in a wide variety of roles. They are highly motivated, hard working, and collaborative employees. Etheredge’s inbox has “blown up” with notes from senior colleagues who are thrilled to work with the Apprentices. They first comment on the new colleagues’ excellence, but some have also shared that the Apprentice program demonstrates Accenture’s purpose more powerfully than the long-time volunteer program to train similar young people for jobs elsewhere. 

As a woman-led global company looking to grow by talent acquisition, Accenture is serious about diversity and inclusion. The Apprentices are 60% racially diverse, and only 80% have four-year degrees.

What Does This Success Mean? 

The Apprentice program has major implications for Accenture’s talent strategy going forward, but also other candidates like Aryan. 45% of Accenture’s full-time roles now do not require four-year college degrees – a major shift from just five years ago. This approach to hiring has taught Accenture about the value of increased flexibility in terms of what qualifications fit what roles. They’ve also seen the power of mentorships, which enhance the performance of all new hires, not just Apprentices.

Aryan wants her peers to understand the power of this approach to entering the workforce. In her words: “It’s more valuable than a gap year or part-time work, because we build professional experience and get paid!” 

Happily, Aryan is now formally an Ambassador for the program, alongside Etheredge’s passion for the program, of course, among many other Accenture champions. On the firm level, Accenture advises 89 of the Fortune Global 100 and more than three-quarters of the Global Fortune 500. A more effective, inclusive, and creative approach to recognizing, developing, and advancing talent is closer at hand thanks to these influencers driving the Apprentice model.

Email us for a free worksheet to do these purposeful planning sessions. Learn more about my new book, Going First: An Invitation to Find the Courage to lead Purposefully and Inspire Action, here.

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