Andrew Holt reports on the CII's initiative to attract high quality talent into the industry

Attracting and retaining young talent to work in insurance should be one of the highest priorities of the industry. The CII conference in Glasgow a couple of weeks ago made this its mission with the launch of its much-anticipated talent initiative.

This initiative aims to tackle the industry's awful careers image with potential employees. The plan is to work with universities, schools, colleges and employers to promote insurance as a first-choice career. It is much needed and not before time.

The industry-led programme is the first talent initiative for the insurance sector aimed at attracting university and school students and career changers into insurance. It will also encourage firms to create a professional environment that will support the retention and development of talent. The aim is to recruit 1,000 graduates a year for the next five years.

At the CII graduation ceremony in Glasgow, CII director of communications Steve Wellard set the scene. "The objectives of the initiative are to improve the profile of insurance careers, in terms of materials and the industry's presence on campus, relative to its existing ranking against other major financial services careers.

"Ultimately, we want to see the number of graduates making a conscious choice to join this fantastic industry increasing from 10% to 30% within five years."

It will be an uphill struggle to achieve this. But at least the CII has dug in to make sure the industry takes the journey.

Stephen Reid, managing director of Marsh's risk management practice, pointed out how the industry needed to shape up. "There seems to be limited public knowledge of insurance among the demographic group we are trying to attract to the sector, which is a problem the industry needs to face. Companies need to work together to raise the profile and prestige of the industry."

According to Reid, the insurance industry needs to create more opportunities to attract the so-called Generation-Y; such as professional development programmes and the offer of high profile work.

"One of the keys for Generation-Y staff is regular development and mentoring. The new generation of workers is moving away from long-term relationships with companies and are looking for short-term rewards. Companies need to reflect this and offer these rewards," Reid said.

"Opportunities, such as giving people experience that they may not usually receive, such as being involved in strategic planning, or working with major clients, will fuel their interest in the sector.

"Many companies restrict their focus on clear development plans to keep Generation-Y enthused."

While development, experience and strategic opportunities are good for attracting talent, Reid believes creating a competitive environment with access to senior leaders is essential for retaining that talent going forward.

"Once we have young talent working in the industry, retaining them comes down to creating the right framework. The key elements to achieving this include a broad network of colleagues, a salary structure that promotes and rewards performance, and a comprehensive career programme that recognises the drivers for this generation, such as brand reputation and the opportunity to work on global projects and business strategy."

Reid says: "If individual businesses succeed with Generation-Y, it will drive the overall performance of our business and secure the future of the industry."

Steve Lathrope of consultants Accenture agrees that the industry must engage with "generation Y" if it wants to appeal to younger people. He says those born in the digital age have greater expectations in terms of career flexibility, promotion prospects, intellectual fulfillment and financial rewards. He added: "Employers need to re-recruit existing staff on a regular basis to prevent them becoming disenchanted and seeking an alternative position elsewhere."

Lloyd's chief executive Richard Ward also stresses the importance of having qualified people in the insurance industry.

"It is crystal clear to me that human capital is the core of that market. It is also equally clear that the reputation and brand of a business are also of critical importance. And in an industry like ours, that reputation is shaped by people, their values, integrity and professionalism."

Five-year strategy
Chris Hanks, Allianz Cornhill's commercial lines manager, accepted that insurance is currently not on the radar of graduates considering their career options. But he said the CII was committed to a five-year strategy under the "in insurance" banner which will target graduates, school-leavers and those already in the workplace.

AXA chief executive Peter Hubbard said the UK insurance industry needed talent so that it could remain the top market in Europe and the third largest in the world.

He argued that, in a customer-focused environment, getting people to share in corporate values is as important as technical qualifications. He listed pragmatism, professionalism, team spirit, innovation and integrity as core values that are prized by his organisation, and which as used as the basis of staff evaluation.

Such a high calibre group making such a strong endorsement of the CII's initiative highlights how serious the industry will take the issue.

But while Ian Templeton, the new CII president, told Insurance Times that creating diversity in the industry is highly important, David Gittings, who chairs the Lloyd's Market Professional Standards Committee, said when it came to achieving greater diversity in the industry, Lloyd's had one type of application that dominated above all others. "More white male graduates are attracted to the Lloyd's market than any other group, that is a fact of life."

So despite the CII initiative being much needed, and extremely welcome, there is some way to go before there is evidence of some fruition.