AICPA, Department of Labor launch finance apprenticeship program


The American Institute of CPAs and the Department of Labor announced the first three companies to participate in the Registered Apprenticeship for Finance Business Partners program — Technology company HP, Liberty Bank and insurer Aon.

The program gives participating apprentices a full-time job combined with on-the-job training and mentorship, and a learning program built around the CGMA Finance Leadership Program that will end in the apprentices earning the Chartered Global Management Accountant credential.

The apprenticeship is the first of its kind for accounting and finance.

“When you hear ‘apprentice,’ you’re thinking a bricklayer or a construction guy,” noted Tom Hood, executive vice president of business engagement and growth at the AICPA. “This idea of a professional apprenticeship is relatively new.”

AICPA building in Durham, N.C.

The Department of Labor will be highlighting the signing of the three employers to the program at an event in Chicago on Monday timed to coincide with the start of National Apprenticeship Week and will feature First Lady Jill Biden and Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh. The event will also highlight programs in cybersecurity and at McDonald’s, in part to emphasize the fact that apprenticeships are not limited to vocational positions.

AICPA officials were quick to differentiate these apprenticeships from the internships that are common in public accounting.

“It’s very structured — it’s a paid job rather than an internship,” explained Joanne Fiore, AICPA vice president of pipeline and apprenticeships. “There’s on-the-job training in which the employee commits to providing experiences that help you grow with a mentor to shepherd you through, as well as related instruction.”

“This is a job, and you’re expected to do the job and potentially rise up,” added Hood. “You’re hired, and there’s no automatic out [as with an internship]. It’s about three years to go through the CGMA curriculum — which they are actually applying in their job role as they go.”

The apprenticeships are also more complicated to set up than the average internship. They have to be registered with the Department of Labor and meet DOL standards, and then they rely on a broader community to set up.

“You need employers and intermediaries like us developing standards, and then you need community groups to help support the apprentices,” Hood explained. “Those are the three components you need to do this right.”

The employer networks that underpin these kinds of apprenticeships tend be local to major metropolitan areas (Chicago’s, for instance, is well-established, and that’s why the signing event is being held there) — and those areas also tend to be home to large groups of people who are underrepresented in the accounting profession.

“All of these employer networks are in urban areas where the need for good jobs is significant, and there’s the opportunity to tap a pipeline of talent that we don’t always get access to,” said Hood. “You’re offering a job level that many people might not even know is possible.”

Currently, the three employers have approximately 40 apprentices either registered or in the pipeline, all of whom already have four-year degrees, but Hood foresees a time when apprenticeships may be expanded to those with two-year degrees, or who are still looking to finish college — in which case the apprenticeship might include college credit.

He also imagines expanding this type of apprenticeship to people of all ages and employment circumstances. For instance, an industrial company “could take a plant manager who’s going to be automated and take all their deep industry knowledge and supplement this with finance skills and give them a whole new career. … We were talking with AARP, and they said, ‘What about older people who could be displaced?’ It’s about upskilling and reskilling and offering a really good job — that’s what this is opening up. That can be at any age and at any level.”

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