Enstitute's apprenticeship program is transforming the way millennials think of higher education.
“In K-12, we’ve identified many different ways with which young kids learn,” says Shaila Ittycheria. “But somehow, when everyone turns 18, we say OK, college is the one pathway.” Ittycheria is the cofounder of Enstitute, an apprenticeship program that matches young go-getters with high-powered mentors. Apprentices, who range in age from 18-24, are thrown directly into the deep end of the professional pool, suddenly immersed in the culture and real-life responsibilities of the working world.
Mentor and mentee are paired throughout a rigorous screening process – sticking with each other for at least a year so that apprentices learn how to walk, talk, act, and think like a successful person in their field. “Basically, they’re looking to see their Mini Me,” says Ittycheria of Enstitute’s professional partners, “this is a really serious relationship.” Apparently, the meticulous approach is working out. “Ninety percent of our original cohort either work for the companies where they apprenticed or have started their own companies,” she says.
A generation of college students is graduating into a lifetime of crushing debt and a job market that all too often treats a 4-year Bachelor’s degree like an expired fishing license. Topping that off with more school, or an unpaid internship has made the traditional path to professional life a frustrating, uphill slog for many students. “We think that learning by doing, especially when it comes to careers and jobs, in this 21st century world, is one of the most important things you go through to figure out where you need to be,” Ittycheria says.
Enstitute’s early days were exciting; the first generation of mentors in fall 2012 included hot tech and media startups like Bit.ly and Thrillist, and the entire cohort of 11 students lived together in a loft in downtown Manhattan. “We were two crazy people with a concept and a website,” says Ittycheria, “and when you’re asking young adults to move to New York, many of them are either deferring, or dropping out of school, or didn’t know what to do—we wanted to minimize other obstacles for them.” Though their expenses were covered, the original group only received a minimal stipend of $800 a month; current apprentices are paid a wage of $30,000 annually, and though encouraged to room together, they are expected to figure out their own living situations.
The program’s founders learned another important lesson from their first class: The apprenticeship was shortened from two years to one (an optional second year is still available) as most participants were offered full-time jobs before the end of their first year. “We wanted to make sure the companies not only saw the value of taking on these apprentices, but really thought of it as marketing and recruitment for future years," Ittycheria explains. “We’re changing the way people, especially senior people, look at entry-level talent.”
Enstitute has since grown. This year will begin their first partnership with an accredited school, George Mason University, which will grant a year credit to students that complete an apprenticeship. What began as a pack of ambitious, tech-savvy millenials crammed into a New York loft is following what Ittycheria calls an “aggressive growth plan,” and has already established programs in Washington, D.C., and St. Louis.
“St. Louis is going through a really interesting growth curve,” says Ittycheria. “We didn’t originally have it on our list, not even in our top five radar at all – but one of our apprentices, who was living in New York, wanted to go back home to St Louis. He kept saying ‘guys, you got to check out St. Louis, you’ll be shocked.’ And we said yeah, sure, whatever, but when we got there, frankly, we were blown away – there are a lot of really strong companies there that just don’t get the New York style exposure. The population is so diverse, and they have a lot of that Midwestern humbleness and work ethic.” A fourth city is coming later this year.
“It’s looking like Miami,” she says.
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