By Mary Knight | Communications Associate, CareerWise
Apprenticeship can be a powerful tool to advance equity by providing apprentices access to earning a living while gaining valuable skills that lead to in-demand jobs. Especially in today’s labor market, every company should be strategizing how to create a diverse workforce and build a more inclusive, equitable environment to retain and attract new talent.
Last year, CareerWise Colorado launched Equity First, an apprenticeship program designed to help employers make meaningful strides toward their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals. Equity First helps employers recruit diverse talent through youth apprenticeship. Additionally, CareerWise provides anti-bias and inclusive leadership training and ongoing support to ensure equitable outcomes for all apprentices.
Mercer, a global professional services firm in the areas of risk, strategy and people, was one of the first CareerWise employer partners to become an Equity First employer.
“It’s a business imperative to focus on diversity and inclusion—and the Equity First program was another tool in our toolkit to help us continue to advance our DEI efforts,” said Chris Mast, the Mountain States Leader for Health at Mercer.
And Mast is right—employers want actionable ways to incorporate DEI strategies. Not only to improve their bottom line but to improve hiring, retention and overall company culture and productivity.
In his role, Mast spearheads the recruitment and hiring of talent for Colorado in addition to the other Rocky Mountain states. As a Denver native and Mercer team member for 17 years, he is personally invested in the community and finding local talent.
“Mercer is a consulting business. That means we are as good as our people are because we are selling expertise,” said Mast. “And creating a team that has diversity in thought, life experiences, educational backgrounds, personalities and skill sets is not easy—especially in healthcare consulting.”
Mercer has made many strides to change this and attract a more diverse candidate pool—including moving towards skills-based hiring by removing the bachelor’s degree requirement on their application and instead asking candidates what makes them stand apart from other applicants, setting specific diversity expectations for candidate pools before a job application is closed, and having a diverse array of current staff interview potential hires. Additionally, the company has taken active efforts to advertise their career opportunities through avenues they haven’t before, such as promoting open roles through HBCUs.
“We heard about the Equity First program and decided we absolutely wanted to be involved. We are already investing resources towards diversity and inclusion efforts and we want to keep searching for additional ways to do more,” said Mast.
Last year, Mercer hired its first two youth apprentices through the employer partnership with CareerWise. In the short time they have had youth apprentices as part of their Denver team, Mast says it has clearly impacted not only the diversity of the team, but also made the team culture more inclusive.
One of the apprentices identifies as non-binary—a first for the team in Denver—which has provided a learning opportunity for employees to improve their cultural awareness and communication skills.
“It’s stretched us and made us better professionals and therefore better consultants,” said Mast.
Although Mercer is still early in their journey with youth apprenticeship, Mast is looking forward to developing the program more and seeing the apprentices they have continue to blossom into young professionals.
“I would like to think that ultimately many of them would like to work for us full time because of the potential career path they see,” said Mast. “Because of that, we are making a concerted effort to ensure they see all the parts of their business, not just their day-to-day swim lane.”
Not only has having young talent in the office benefited the team in terms of the company’s diversity initiatives, but it has also helped improve the perspective and dynamic for his full-time employees as well. By working with young people excited to learn a new field and contribute good work, the experience has redefined what success looks like and shown that different types of people can thrive in consulting.
“It gives us all just a little more patience, tolerance and confidence,” said Mast. “We are proud of our CareerWise program and looking forward to bringing on more youth apprentices in the future.”