The insurance industry has suffered from its reputation. Many graduates perceive it to be boring and old-fashioned and, as a consequence, the industry is finding it difficult to attract and retain employees. But, says Amanda Swinburn, insurers have learnt from the past and are offering some worthwhile opportunities….

Recruiting high-calibre graduates into the insurance market is becoming increasingly difficult and the Chartered Institute of Insurance (CII) says that insurers could do more to attract fresh talent.

A recent MORI poll of 2,000 graduates, in conjunction with the Association of Graduate Recruiters, shows that graduates are becoming increasingly powerful and demanding.

This new power is evidenced by the 7% that expect a “golden hello”, while one in five who had a recent job offer felt sufficiently confident to turn it down.

The poll also shows that, while the class of 2000 expects to walk into a job, they have no employer loyalty and a third do not expect to stay with their first career move for more than a year or two.

As a result, there is a further problem for the insurance industry – retaining, as well as hiring staff.

Filling the gap
According to the CII, a skills gap has opened up in the insurance and financial services sector, between the less-experienced workforce and the senior, very experienced employees, as a result of the flattening organisational hierarchies.

A new dynamic is also present – in the past, people moved between insurance companies, therefore providing a steady supply of employees with technical and professional knowledge. However, the trend today is for people to move between disciplines, as they develop non-insurance specific skills in areas like marketing, sales and IT.

So what can insurers do to try to rectify the problem? Steve Radford of the CII says: “One of the problems is the stuffy image insurance has. Employers could do more to show graduates that the industry is exciting and dynamic.

“Potential employees need to know that there are professional qualifications and training involved, that over the years they can develop their skills and forge a career path.”

Colin Bladen-Hovell, admissions officer for the insurance degree at Guildhall University in London, agrees that the industry needs to shake off its stereotypically boring tag.

He says: “There are some wonderful opportunities for qualified graduates and many are very well paid.

“However, it is up to insurers to show that the types of jobs available are interesting – a risk analyst could work in any field from chemical to pharmaceutical.”

A number of insurance degree courses have sprung up across the UK, offering the subject in conjunction with others such as marketing, maths, languages and criminology.

The MORI poll showed that 71% of graduates expected training in their first job, with graduate training schemes and fast-track schemes being a popular choice.

Pay is not the only consideration when it comes to choosing a job. The vast majority of graduates are looking to enjoy work, get on well with colleagues and would like to be challenged. When asked about the most attractive benefits on top of a salary, extra holiday came first, followed by a car and contributory company pension scheme.

Dr Sandy Scott, director general of the CII, says the CII plays an important role in helping organisations win the war for talent. “CII qualifications provide a framework for people to progress, developing new knowledge and understanding alongside professional expertise and experience,” he says. “For some this could mean starting with the Insurance Foundation Certificate, or the Financial Planning Certificate – a mandatory benchmark for financial advisers in the UK.”

One insurer that has an excellent record of retaining graduates is Royal & Sunalliance.

In 1999, it took on 30 new graduates, with 40 more recruited in 2000, and so far, there has been a zero drop-out rate.

According to Wendy Kelly, graduate recruitment development officer, the key to keeping employees is flexibility.

“We offer graduates the opportunity to taste different parts of the business,” she explains.

Try it out first
“In the first 18 months, they work in three different areas, and only after that is a specialism decided on.”

Kelly adds that each graduate has a “career mentor”, or someone they can go to for advice. However, she admits that the recruitment process is not cheap and there are sometimes problems in finding the right calibre of graduate.

At Royal & Sunalliance, 90% of job applications are done online. Then each candidate goes through a pre-selection process, followed by an interview and a two-day assessment course.

“Insurers need to recognise that there is a short-term heavy investment needed for long-term gain,” she says.

Robert Charles, senior recruitment consultant at Joslin Rowe believes most insurers offer attractive training schemes to graduates and it is just more promotion that is needed to attract new employees.

He says that the majority of graduates are already IT-literate and enthusiastic.

“Most graduates will show a genuine interest in learning more about financial services and have the ability to hit the ground running. They must be able to take responsibility for their own career and personal development.”

Graduates can be offered salaries of anywhere between £15,000 to £25,000, depending on the individual company.

The CII is currently undertaking a review of the wants and needs of insurers, to meet the challenges of the market. This will include a complete review of its existing courses, exams and qualifications.

Scott concludes: “We want to ensure courses are modern, up-to-date and relevant and also provide a world class suite of qualifications for all levels of people in insurance and financial services, relevant to their job.”