How Aon reinvented work experience to engage disadvantaged young people

Feb 29, 2024 | Case studies, Home Featured, Work experience/internships

Aon explains how it reinvented its work experience programme to attract students from lower socio-economic backgrounds with tips to help other employers do the same.

In 2022 Aon’s EMEA CEO Julie Page challenged the Aon Early Careers team to develop an initiative that would support young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds pursuing careers within finance and professional services.

After reviewing a number of options, they decided the greatest impact would be achieved through re-inventing work experience at Aon. This would include massively increasing its scale, quality and outreach, and specifically targeting students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Traditionally, work experience was ad-hoc, one-to-one, often for those already with connections, and wasn’t very educationally valuable (making the tea, scanning documents).

The team wanted a programme which 1,000 young people could participate in annually, that would provide real career insights, learning, and impact.

Design

Aon wanted a programme that would be both educational and engaging. To achieve this the team worked with student experts at Connectr, Aon subject matter experts, and representatives from Aon’s employee networks.

The quality of the programme was key for its longevity and school engagement, so it was aligned to the Gatsby benchmarks of Good Career Guidance.
Accessibility was also crucial, so it needed to provide both a hybrid and a fully virtual option; enabling students anywhere to participate, but still delivered 100% live. A fully in-person option became available in February 2024.

To enable the scale and consistency, an interactive classroom-type experience was created, delivered by Aon colleagues. Each session was created with delivery resources, presentations, videos and workbooks, and detailed speaker notes.

This approach meant it could be easily replicated in the seven locations across the UK that Aon run the programme in, supported by over 500 Aon volunteers.

School engagement

Working with their partners at Connectr they identified, and then promoted, the programme to schools and colleges, which have high percentages of students on free school meals and are in postcodes of higher deprivation.

To maximise accessibility, they removed academic barriers (e.g. no minimum GCSEs). A student simply needs to be in Year 12/13, at a state funded school, and write a short motivation statement. Priority is then given to students hitting criteria such as being free school meal eligible.

Impact

During the first year of the programme, Aon worked with 185 schools, had over 600 students completing the 2023 programme, and had 500 Aon colleagues volunteer to support the programme; this is the equivalent of about 10% of Aon’s UK workforce.

Half of the participants in the programme have been women and 69.8% from ethnic minorities, 61% attended schools who were in the bottom 50% of postcodes in the UK in terms of deprivation.

Alongside the diversity of the students, the impact on the sense of belonging and career aspirations of the students has been significant.

On the first day, Aon found that 56% of students were likely to consider a career in financial or professional services, and 36% of students were likely to consider applying for a role at Aon. By the end of the week that had shifted to 82% and 83% respectively!

Learnings

When the programme was first imagined in early 2023, it was important to Aon that they publish their key learnings from delivering the programme, along with recommendations to support other organisations. These learnings are:
• More resource goes into promoting Spring and Autumn Half Term offerings compared to July. Attendance is more easily secured when scheduled in the academic calendar.
• Experiment with programme structure based on reception and feedback. From February 2024 we’ve switched our half term programme to three days in-person based on feedback.
• Open July applications early in February to attract your target student demographic and oversubscribe on student places. We invite typically 20-30% more students.
• Create programme resources up front, to be able deliver at scale with company volunteers and subsequently pipeline students to apprentice roles. Volunteer engagement is easier when high quality resources minimise volunteer preparation time.
• Delivering school events and building school partnerships have continued to be the most successful driver of programme applications. This has been especially important for non-London locations.

This case study is part of ISE’s school outreach report Forging Stronger Bonds: Redefining Employer-School Engagement for Tomorrow.

You may also be interested in some of the findings in the report which show the importance of employer collaboration in effective and efficient school outreach activity.

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