Elliot Lane says the business of recruiting and holding talented individuals is tough, but one worth investing the necessary time, effort and funds in

Life as a modern undergraduate seems far more lucrative than when I shared a house with virtual strangers, all with dubious cleaning habits, where the swing bin in the kitchen never swung as it was overflowing with detritus after late night soirees at the union bar.

OK, it was 20 years ago when I started my first degree but the incentives at the time were a grant from my local authority and NatWest bank offered a £5 Our Price (remember them?) music voucher for opening a student account.

Free gifts offered to students today however have reached new levels. Two weeks ago when the CII Talent steering committee met to discuss the latest developments on the initiative, the attendees were told by James Darley of Teach First, a graduate recruitment specialist, that the market is so fierce for young talent among all industries that students were being enticed by serious consumer goods. We are not talking iPods.

Recently, major law firms offered students at leading universities the chance to win Smart cars; consultants charmed the eco-warriors by offering hybrid Mazdas; while the investment banks talked of starting salaries of £37k with bonuses after the first year.

Money, it seems, can buy you talent, but keeping them is another thing.

Royal Bank of Scotland spends on average £40,000 recruiting and training new graduates or members of staff, but within 18 months there is a good chance that the individual has moved on. It is a common problem for insurers and brokers.

Knowing regional brokers as I do, the number of leading entrepreneurs who have built their businesses up through hard graft and their wits outshine those with a double first from Oxbridge.

As the London market legend Terry Wellard loves to regale those propping up the bar at Bolton’s, he has spent his life rubbing shoulders with Oxbridge-educated men in Lloyd’s having himself left “Peckham Secondary Modern” at 16.

The majority of insurers and brokers want smart, young people with a mix of a brilliant mind, common sense and a hardworking ethos. This is why school-leavers as much as graduates must be targeted, trained and retained in the business.

It has been said many times the war on talent is a fight worth fighting but it does take time, effort and funds.

The CII has ploughed £200,000 into its talent project and it needs more funding. Last month the advertising campaign launched last year was short-listed for the Target Awards 2007, up against high street names like PricewaterhouseCoopers and Asda.

The next battle is the 15-19-year-old sector and the first general insurance focused careers fair in Manchester in October.

When most teenagers have attention spans that last from the bottom of the stairs to the top, we as an industry need to keep pushing the slogans and making the branding stick. IT

‘ Elliot Lane is CII director of the Talent Initiative and head of media relations