Widening the Talent Pool: A Surprising Solution to Hiring Woes (feat. Petra Schmidt)

Apr 12, 2022

Most executives and entrepreneurs look to hire employees who have a certain amount of experience. 


Even for entry-level jobs, it’s not uncommon for companies to ask for one to three years of experience—the implication being that they’re looking for talent that already has internship or apprenticeship experience. 


What if there’s another way to find and retain capable talent? 


My guest on The Enlightened Executive podcast this week is Petra Schmidt, a managing partner at Aon’s Enterprise Client Group and former Chief Commercial Officer with over 25 years at the company. She’s a member of Aon’s Apprentice Program Leadership Group, a recruitment program providing mentorship and on-the-job training for recent high school graduates.  


In this episode, Petra explains the apprenticeship model and how to leverage it to solve talent gaps and drive employee retention. She also shares her number one strategy for developing as a leader.  



Expanding your talent pool through apprenticeship 


Chances are, when you picture a vacant role at your company, you don’t imagine a high school graduate filling that role. What about training and experience? 


Aon challenges the notion that talent must complete a bachelor’s degree before providing value.


“It’s important for organizations to open the talent aperture and look more broadly at where talent can come from,” Petra said. 


The company partnered with Harold Washington University, to create a curriculum for an apprenticeship and two-year Associates degree. For three to four days a week, apprentices come to work at the company, and they attend classes one to two days a week.


The program has seen so much success that it’s now in seven cities across the US, with a goal of hitting 10,000 apprentices over the next ten years. 


Here’s what each apprentice receives: 


  • A paid, two-year associates degree 
  • Employee benefits 
  • A salary 
  • Mentorship and guidance 
  • Hands-on work experience 


At Aon, most apprentice graduates go on to work full-time at the company and the retention rate is above 90%. 


What’s more, mentorship doesn’t only benefit the students. It also re-energizes the mentors, driving company loyalty, engagement, and retention. 



How to leverage an apprenticeship model at your company 


Petra encourages executives and entrepreneurs to assess your entry level jobs, rather than starting a new apprenticeship role from scratch. Start with your IT, finance, human resources, and marketing departments. 


  • What are the tools and resources required?
  • What competencies do entry level employees need? 
  • What skills can you train? 


You’ll find most entry level jobs require on-the-job training. These vacancies are a great way to develop the next generation of leaders. 



Her number one strategy for developing as a leader


Petra shared her best advice for upcoming leaders: prepare yourself. 


Whether it’s the biggest pitch of your life or your first job interview, preparation is crucial. 


“What are the questions you don’t want to get asked?” Petra said, “What are the deficiencies that could get highlighted?” 


Thinking about these questions and your potential answers will enable you to feel confident going into a key meeting.  


As you’re preparing, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find a roleplay partner to practice and prepare with you.


More than anything, take the time to prepare for what’s ahead. Review your upcoming week and define the outcomes you want from each meeting, so you can feel comfortable and confident about your work. 


Tune into this episode to hear Petra’s specific strategies for apprenticeships and driving employee retention. 


“Nothing replaces preparation.” — Petra Schmidt 


Petra also shares…


  • Why humility and vulnerability are essential to enlightened leadership 
  • The transformational power of risk-taking in your career 
  • What flexible leadership entails in a virtual or hybrid environment 


If you liked this episode, you may also benefit from listening to:


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