When Southeast teenager Aliea Mansaray enters Catholic University of America in the fall, she will have one more year left in the CareerWise DC apprenticeship program through which she has gained hands-on experience as a human resources (HR) professional.
During her junior and senior years of high school, Aliea worked part-time at the Arlington branch of Accenture, a multinational IT company. There, she became proficient in Microsoft Excel and Outlook while helping Accenture’s HR department facilitate the onboarding process for new employees.
As she prepares to pursue her collegiate studies in business administration, Aliea credits Accenture with exposing her to what she described as a healthy and supportive office environment.
“I’ve become so much more aware of my personal and professional strengths [and] I’m becoming more proficient in managing my finances,” Aliea said. “I’m used to always being pushed in leadership roles but I’m learning it’s okay to support teammates and be in the background. I learned that I’m more of an empathetic leader who can understand feelings, compromise and make positive interactions.”
The three-year program, sponsored by the nonprofit CityWorks DC, prepares District high school students for careers in business operations, information technology and finance. In the process, participants can earn debt-free college credit and nationally-recognized industry certifications. The arrangement also promises to diversify the pipeline of talent for positions often considered out of reach.
In 2020, Aliea, a soon-to-be graduate of Friendship Tech Prep Academy in Southeast, counted among more than a dozen young people who received white-collar apprenticeships with six employers through CareerWise DC. The number of participants in this CityWorks DC-sponsored program has since expanded to 50 youth and 36 companies.
CareerWise DC currently recruits students from 10 District schools including several of the KIPP schools, campuses within the Friendship Public Charter School network, Washington Leadership Academy Public Charter School and IDEA Public Charter School in Northeast and some District public schools. Students who participate in the program must be on track to graduate.
Within the next year, CareerWise DC’s first class, which includes Aliea, will have completed the apprenticeship program. CareerWise DC will also be on track to start offering apprenticeships in the healthcare, education and hospitality fields.
Lateefah Durant, CityWorks DC’s vice president of innovation, said CareerWise DC will most likely fulfill this goal by collaborating with the Greater Washington Apprenticeship Network and Federal City Council.
“We have relationships with the city government, schools and employers so we can bring those actors together to facilitate the hiring of apprentices,” said Durant, who oversees CareerWise DC and other CityWorks DC programs geared toward adults.
“Our colleagues in Colorado started the model after seeing the impact of apprenticeships in Switzerland,” Durant added. “The model is operating in Denver, New York City, Buffalo, in parts of Indiana and other cities. The concept is there but each local jurisdiction has made it its own.”
As of February, the District’s youth unemployment rate of six percent counts among the highest in the United States. This data, adjusted for seasonal surges in employment during the summer months, accounts for young people between the ages of 16 and 24. Causes of youth unemployment include lack of job opportunities, limited work experience and the increasing size of the labor pool.
D.C.’s problem mirrors that of other U.S. cities. In 2016, then-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) spoke before a group of corporate executives from whom he requested information about the diversity of their talent pool. Jim Coleman, managing director of Accenture’s Chicago office, counted among those in the audience that day. He and others later helped develop and launch Accenture’s apprenticeship program.
While commending Aliea, Coleman said the apprenticeship program allowed Accenture an opportunity to experience the talent and tenacity she had within her the entire time. He hopes the program will continue to provide alternative pathways to the corporate realm and confront long-standing orthodoxies about job qualifications.
“What we have been doing with other companies is challenging the status quo and opening up opportunities to other pools of talent,” Coleman said. “We have expanded this across functions. We have seen our clients join us and take on apprentices. It’s a movement and we’re glad that we’re doing it. I can see that we’re deeply committed.”