When my family immigrated to the United States in the late 2000s from war-torn Afghanistan, my parents’ American dream, at least in the short term, was simply to provide food, clothing and a stable home for their four children. They found refuge in Northern Virginia, not far from the nation’s capital.
And a shy six-year-old child named Arzo Aryan began a new life, in a new country, speaking no English, having no friends and no idea where this unfamiliar path would take her.
Like many immigrant families, we didn’t have much. After the US’s post-9/11 invasion, my parents fled to Pakistan, where we were refugees for 10 years. After the US military dismantled the Taliban, we returned to Afghanistan, where my father began working as an interpreter for the US Air Force. But over the years, that became unsafe, and we were sponsored to come to America.
Once here, my dad worked three jobs, finding a way to make ends meet. My mom stayed at home, caring for my siblings and me. They could hardly have guessed that within a decade and a half, one of those children would be working for one of America’s largest companies, with a promising career in sight even before she graduated from college.
For the last year, while studying for my degree at George Mason University, I have worked as an apprentice for global professional services company Accenture, a position that allows me to work full- time, while learning new technical skills on the job, even as I continue working toward my bachelor’s degree in the evenings. I have gone from a refugee to an immigrant to a job in cybersecurity, calling some of
America’s largest corporations my clients. Sometimes it doesn’t feel real.
This is National Apprenticeship Week, a good time to reflect on the impact these initiatives are having on so many lives and the American workforce at large. I’m happy to say that increasingly across the country, my story is becoming less unique. A growing number of companies are looking to expand their job pools, considering non-traditional candidates that in previous years and decades would have been ignored and ineligible, permanent outsiders with little access to the American dream. Those people were often those without traditional four-year college or advanced degrees. More often than not, these were people of color, economically disadvantaged people or immigrants like me.
More and more companies in recent years have launched apprenticeship programs that lower the barriers to the corporate sector. Ultimately, these initiatives will help change what corporate America looks like.
As access to apprenticeship programs has grown, so has awareness. In a recent Accenture survey of DC area workers, a whopping 81% said they were likely or somewhat likely to “pursue training/reskilling/upskilling, like an apprenticeship program, to get the skills and experience needed to make a career change.”
At Accenture, my fellow apprentices include former military, retail and service industry workers and other mid-career employees looking to grow into more financially stable, digital economy jobs. In my case, I was nominated for the apprenticeship by a supportive Northern Virginia Community College professor. I was unsure initially how it would benefit me, or how I could even do it while going to school at the same time. But two years in, I understand the value of learning specific skills in a real-world environment, surrounded by experts being paid to do what I aspire to do in my own career.
Accenture announced in April a partnership with AON, another global professional services firm, to greatly expand the number of apprenticeship positions here in D.C., in New York, Chicago, Northern California, Houston, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia and other American cities.
More and more companies in recent years have launched apprenticeship programs that lower the barriers to the corporate sector. Ultimately, these initiatives will help change what corporate America looks like, making it a more diverse, inclusive and equitable place. Understanding not just the individual opportunities these initiatives create but also the cultural and economic impact they’ll have on the country, I can only hope more leading corporations follow suit.
Such a job may very well have been open to me in the past, but only after attaining my degree and several years working my way up. Now, before I’ve even graduated, I’m on my way to a career in cybersecurity. My parents are so proud, but I’m even prouder. And I’m appreciative that now the same opportunities will be afforded to thousands more just like me in cities all over America, paving the way for others’ American dreams.-30-