With the insurance industry still facing problems of recruiting and retaining quality staff, Andrew Holt reports on how companies are implementing their own skills initiatives to combat the skills gap

The skills gap within insurance is not a new phenomenon. It is reveal-ing of the industry that five years ago at Strategy 2002, Allianz Cornhill managing director Andrew Torrance warned delegates that the skills shortage in the industry needed addressing.

From an underwriting perspective he made this stark warning: "There is a worry over the number of people who can actually write risks properly." Some would still agree with Torrance's sentiments today.

And in a similar vein, Sandy Scott, the director general of the CII, warned employers to improve their understanding of graduates or lose out in the "war for talent".

Scott said: "It's not just a matter of pay, or benefits, but also internal talent management. Organisations must have a culture in place to develop people to their optimum potential." And that was in early 2001. So the training and development issue within insurance has some history.

Grasping this nettle, the CII launched its talent initiative last October, to attract new talent into the insurance market. The CII equated attracting new talent to raising the profile of the industry and creating a more positive image of insurance. Finally, there was movement on the issue.

But what of companies themselves, within the whole debate? Surely they should be undertaking more skills programmes for their employees and not just waiting for the industry to act?

Skills initiatives
Thankfully, the evidence seems to be that enough companies are confronting this challenge. One such organisation taking a proactive approach and trying to overcome the skills and training hurdle is Swinton Business, the commercial division of Swinton Group.

It is undertaking a pilot apprenticeship scheme, in partnership with training provider Skills Solutions, that aims to address the growing skills gap, specifically within commercial insurance.

Like many companies within the industry, Swinton Business has found it increasingly difficult to recruit staff with appropriate experience, and has struggled due to the highly specialised nature of commercial broking. 

So in an attempt to resolve this, Swinton Business has worked with Skills Solutions to develop a completely new apprenticeship model specifically designed for commercial insurance.

As part of this proactive approach, Swinton Business has recently enrolled five young people into a CII accredited pilot programme that will offer both NVQ level 2 in retail financial services and IF1 of the certificate in insurance apprenticeships.

Also offered are advanced apprenticeships that are at NVQ3 and full certificate level. Swinton hopes that candidates will eventually progress to a professional apprenticeship where they will undertake either the diploma or advanced diploma in insurance.

The structure of the apprenticeship has been designed specifically to meet Swinton Business' recruitment needs. It involves the combination of "real life" commercial broking experience at Swinton, together with training delivered by Skills Solutions.

This so called 'earn and learn' model is increasingly attractive to young people, says Swinton, who want to develop a career backed up with professional qualifications – as opposed to going to university, graduating with no vocational experience, and saddled with debt.

Head of Swinton Business, Carolyn Callan, says: "The skills gap across the insurance industry is well documented but being in a niche sector means we require even more specialised experience than most.

"We've therefore decided to recruit young people and develop them specifically with commercial insurance in mind. This may not address our immediate short-term recruitment needs, but is an investment in the future.

But this scheme is not only for Swinton's benefit, it will give young people invaluable vocational experience, a recognised professional qualification and, eventually, a good career within the insurance industry."

Glenys Clarke, head of Skills Solutions financial services team, adds: "This reflects a trend within the insurance industry to look beyond consultants or headhunting from other firms."

In addition to apprenticeships within Swinton Business, Swinton Group also has ongoing professional development programmes in place for all staff, both young and old, across all divisions.

There should be no doubt that an investment in the future of staff is an ambition worth undertaking. IT