If insurers want a strong industry they need to start attracting graduates, says Caroline Jordan

' Ask any insurers about the benefits of going offshore and they'll be quick to point out that India, for example, churns out vast numbers of graduates.

Bright people, of course, being a much nicer subject than cheap payrolls.

Back in the UK, however, too many insurers are paying mere lip service to graduate recruitment, while failing to do enough to promote the industry via school and university careers departments. Most major players employ only a handful of graduates compared to their size, with Norwich Union, in probably the largest scheme, taking on up to 50 a year .

Their target market is certainly unlikely to be thinking about insurance. With exam stress currently at a crescendo for both GCSE and A-level students, how many of them are focused on the longer-term goal of a career in claims or underwriting?

Financial services is just not everyone's cup of tea, although fund management and banking are seen as tastier careers than insurance.

Law, medicine or veterinary science are far more likely to trip off the tongue.

Insurers are keen to stress that they are actively recruiting graduates. Royal & SunAlliance, for example, is revamping its graduate programme, with a focus on leadership development. Markel launched its 'university' scheme last year, recruiting graduates in the UK to move around a variety of different departments to gain experience.

But in recent times insurers have scaled down their graduate programmes. According to Robert Charles, associate director with recruitment consultants Joslin Rowe: "Before the industry was hit by mergers, there were massive schemes with hundreds of graduates taken on each year. These no longer exist."

He also hits out at the industry's image. "From the days of the film Wall Street, banking has always been seen as sexier. If you think of insurance it's always about motor or home and people like Michael Winner. The image of the Man from the Pru is also still around.

"Big brokers like Marsh, Aon and Willis all have graduate schemes, but brand awareness among students is incredibly low. Many don't even know how to pronounce Aon. I know TV advertising is expensive, but the industry could do more."

Last year the CII linked up with Cass Business School to form the Insurance University, aiming to "provide a demonstrable industry career path for graduates". It offers an MSc in insurance, a research function and an MBA relevant to insurance management and leadership. These are all noble concepts, but again, how wide is awareness?

There is a long way to go. Research conducted by the CII and Cass revealed that almost 90% of students said they would never consider insurance as a career. There is also very little insurance literature within university careers libraries and other campus information sources.

Insurers often moan about the dearth of industry talent. If they want things to change two things are vital: increased investment in graduate recruitment programmes and improved marketing of the industry, which needs to be seen as worthy of attracting the best and being modern, dynamic and offering real opportunities.

Simply bragging about the graduates in Delhi is not a sensible long-term strategy. IT