The CEO of HomeAdvisor has long felt America’s obsession with “college for all” is myopic — believing there should be multiple paths for developing well-rounded, educated adults who have skills that will let them achieve the American Dream. He was initially skeptical of an apprentice program—pioneered in Switzerland—serving high schoolers, but seeing the innovative approach in action, became convinced it was a highly effective and pragmatic solution. Today, HomeAdvisor employs several modern youth apprentices and is helping CareerWise Colorado write the playbook for this unique model.
Pragmatic, Smart and Proven
Chris Terrill, HomeAdvisor’s CEO, subscribes to the notion that college may not be the right path for all students, and that some will benefit from college only after experiencing the workforce.
As a society, Terrill said, “we went too far in the sixties and seventies, believing that college and only college could make students well prepared for the world, improve their skills, and be prepared for a modern work environment.” Businesses need employees who can work in groups effectively, learn unique skills in real time and have flexible thinking capabilities—but, given the pace of change today, college can’t always provide that type of dynamic, real-world environment as readily as businesses can. In Terrill’s experience, “at times, the education system can be a bit divorced from the pace and reality of how business works.”
Terrill initially took a skeptical view of youth apprenticeship, fearing that the education gaps were too complex to be solved by what he considered merely an idea. He needed evidence that a youth apprentice program would work.
In 2016, Terrill was invited by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to explore Switzerland’s successful apprenticeship model. He was eager to see what was so special about the Swiss approach—a collaborative effort of education, government and business—and how it might benefit Colorado businesses.
In the Swiss model, he found the evidence he needed. “It was a pragmatic, smart program with proven results,” he said. And he witnessed apprentices who were equally smart, mature and productive—combating his own tendency to underestimate what young people are capable of accomplishing.
Fitting with Today’s Career Options
As a pilot partner in July 2017 HomeAdvisor hired four CareerWise apprentices. These college-bound students will be joined by six additional apprentices in July 2018.
They fill roles on the human resources, IT and software development teams, building transferable skills they can take to the marketplace. Modern youth apprenticeship, said Tanya Jones, HomeAdvisor’s recruiting director, accomplishes goals for the new generation of students and for private industry. “It takes an old, well-known, work-based learning model and applies it to today’s new career options,” she said.
HomeAdvisor’s apprentices benefit the company in multiple ways by bringing in a new set of eyes and perspectives. For example, the apprentice supporting Jones’s team has suggested small changes that bring efficiencies to her team’s processes.
Because the younger generation are “technology natives,” they are more adaptable and able to learn in modern environments quickly. This is something Jones’s team hadn’t accounted for in the first 12 weeks of training. “We were six weeks ahead of our plans and had to find other things for them to do. We definitely underestimated them.”
Finally, Jones is impressed with the apprentices’ passion and willingness to work hard. “They are sponges and want to learn. They give me hope for what’s next for the group ultimately taking over my job.”
Competitive Edge and Talent
HomeAdvisor’s modern youth apprentices are helping the company work better and faster, and gain a distinct competitive edge. But CEO Terrill takes the long view in considering the return on investment. Because the company is tapping into a new generation of workers before its competitors, and potentially filling its own future employee pipeline, Terrill justifies the time and resource commitment.
He also sees greater value for the entire industry in building and expanding the modern youth-apprentice model, regardless of where the apprentices end up in the long term. “The ecosystem is better for everybody. There is a net gain of talent that every company can dip into,” he said.
Connecting the Dots
Compared to traditional, three-month internship programs, CareerWise’s apprenticeship structure actively involves the students in their learning—offering hard and soft skills they can use while holding them to the same expectations as adults. This new treatment of kids’ abilities and potential influenced Terrill’s thinking.
“You have these inherently smart kids who weren’t connecting with high school and weren’t thinking about college before. Now they’re connecting the dots; they are being productive,” he said. “We do a disservice to kids in thinking they can’t do more.”
Showing, Not Telling
Developing an effective apprentice model and taking it to scale will be a lot of work, but that is Terrill’s vision. He is eager to play a role in helping CareerWise build, test, modify and make the model work. And he wants to prove to other businesses that it’s a model worth investing in.
Terrill is ready to answer the tough questions, because he’s been there. “I think CEOs need their peers to ‘show, not tell’ them what they should look at. Like me, they must see the benefit to believe it.”
Company Profile: HomeAdvisor
Industry: Digital marketplace for home services
Staff: 2,000 employees
Location: Golden, Colo.