Hiring an apprentice can really benefit businesses, provided they are aware of what they are taking on
Apprentices can offer enormous advantages to businesses, but only if they are effectively managed.
Insurance Times and Aviva are on hand to provide plenty of help and support to get you started.
In Johann von Goethe’s poem ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, the old magician goes out, leaving his young apprentice to scrub the floor. Soon bored of the task, the apprentice enchants a broom to fetch the water. However, the floor is soon awash with water as the untrained apprentice cannot undo the spell. Panicking, he smashes the broom in two, only to find to his horror that the two parts are now fetching twice as much water as before. The sorcerer returns in the nick of time to put things right, chiding the apprentice for meddling with magic he does not fully understand.
Clearly, the accident would not have happened had the apprentice been given a more rewarding job, and the sorcerer had not gone out and left his spell book lying around.
Getting the most out of apprentices requires a commitment to their ongoing development and an awareness of their needs. Those employers with clear progression structures in place and achievable goals for apprentices will benefit hugely from having another pair of hands. But what else do employers need to be aware of when deciding to take on an apprentice?
Selection and introduction
Selecting a suitable apprentice is essential. Young people who have recently left school are unlikely to have insurance at the forefront of their consciousness. However, owing in part to university tuition fee increases, there are growing numbers of highly motivated school leavers with plenty of ambition. Through careful management, that drive can be effectively channelled into the workplace.
It’s crucial for employers to give apprentices the bigger picture of the role they can play in the business. Making them work as part of a team will mean that they’re aware of their contribution, and feel they are an asset to the business.
Giving apprentices real responsibilities creates and fast-tracks the learning process. It also provides the employer with the opportunity to assess skills and competencies. Guidance remains critical though, and must be readily available in order to avoid disaster and keep building confidence.
Guy Dixon, 18, an apprentice at commercial lines broker Northern Alliance (see the case study, right), says: “Working with the renewable energy team means that it’s felt like I’m working on the more specialist side of things, which a lot of people my age probably wouldn’t think to get involved in. And the company has been good with guiding me along the way.”
Setting short- and long-term targets gives apprentices a sense of purpose and achievement.
CII qualifications are internationally recognised, and completing exams means that apprentices become professional members of the insurance industry.
Helping a young person develop to become a successful member of your organisation is undoubtedly a satisfying experience.
Northern Alliance director Nick Jamieson (see below) says: “The best part has been seeing our apprentices develop, which is hugely rewarding.
“They’ve come from college without any insurance knowledge whatsoever, and it’s surprising how quickly they’ve picked up complex concepts.”
Case study: Northern Alliance
Commercial lines broker Northern Alliance has taken on four apprentices this year, with a view to maintaining an in-house training academy. The company’s three directors were all keen to bring in fresh blood to the industry, and their focus has been on finding young people with excellent interpersonal skills.
Northern Alliance director Nick Jamieson:
“This is something we’ve had on the agenda for a while, but this is the first year we’ve actually done it, and it’s been working out really well. The intention is to set up an academy within the company, to bring in people from outside the industry and train them up in either sales or account-handling roles. We want to put them through the CII exams and develop them into successful insurance professionals and valuable assets to the company, and hope they don’t get swooped.
“We’ve had success in bringing people to the company from outside the insurance world before. You might have someone with 20 years’ experience and all the qualifications, but you can’t train them to have the personality to advance.
“We’re a customer-facing operation, so you have to be able to get on with the customers and build relationships, because insurance is a people business.
“There’s a lot of doom and gloom out there at the moment with the recession, and the insurance industry is a good career to be in with a lot to offer young individuals.”
Northern Alliance apprentice Guy Dixon:
“I started here in July, and there’s been a lot of learning involved. The other directors have helped me along.
“I’d worked in the construction industry previously, so it was a jump to find myself in an office, and I was pleased when they offered me a position. I’d had a lot of jobs, but no careers, which is what I want.
At the moment, I’m working with one of the directors on renewable energy insurance, so I’ve been looking at insuring wind-turbines and solar panels. It’s really interesting.
“My responsibilities have grown. Initially, I was tidying up data in the system and confirming client details, but now I’m speaking to clients and dealing with quotes at the smaller end of the scale. They’ve been good at guiding me along the way.
“I’d say to people who aren’t sure about doing an apprenticeship that I was the same when I started, because it’s not a job you immediately think about, but it’s rewarding, and a great career at the end.”
Trevor Matthews, Aviva
Aviva’s executive director and chairman of developed markets believes apprentices are a great addition to a business and encourages others to have a shot
Q: What is your involvement with apprentices and getting young people into the industry?
A: I’m a great believer in our industry. I view it as a noble profession. We do a lot of good that is often underestimated, and I believe we should work hard to attract bright young people into our industry. I think that, as a society, we have pushed too many people to go to university, and the idea of apprenticeships has been overlooked.
We’ve been talking about this at the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, where I am a commissioner, and the Financial Skills Partnership (FSP), where I am chairman. The FSP has been actively encouraging accountancy and financial services organisations, such as Aviva, to set up apprenticeship schemes. We’re trying to change the system, so employers, rather than training providers and learning institutions, call the shots on skills. Here at Aviva, we’re up and running with our apprentice programme, and we’re really keen to see more employers get involved and take more ownership of the skills agenda.
Q: Do you think that apprentices are suitable for small businesses as well as large ones?
A: Yes, I really do. It can be harder for smaller employers to set things up on their own, which is where Aviva’s broker apprenticeship initiative can help.
Q: What can apprentices bring to a financial services company?
A: They can bring a new lease of life and enthusiasm, which all organisations need. Not only that, but I’ve seen some statistics saying that retention of apprentices can be higher than that of graduates.
Q: Are apprentices a route to future-proofing your company and finding future leaders?
A: Yes, there’s real potential there. They come in early, and you have an opportunity to train and help them develop in the way you would like. Our Aviva apprentices are enthusiastic, curious and conscientious, and they offer great fuel to our business.
Q: Why do you think so many young people are considering apprentices now?
A: I’m delighted that so many are. We’ve been trying hard to get the message through - working with careers advisers and schools and, at last, these efforts plus government support are starting to pay dividends.
Q: What advice would you give to a broker looking to take on apprentices?
A: Have a go! Experiment with it, as you have very little to lose, especially as support is available, including what Aviva and Insurance Times are offering with our broker apprenticeship initiative.