Lynsey Kerr always knew she had a future in finance. She had planned a career in banking or insurance and was already working for an insurance broker when she accepted a job with Giles Insurance Brokers in Irvine, Scotland in 1995.

It was Giles' emphasis on workplace training that sold the company to the then 20-year-old from Ayr. The terms were better but the training they offered was even more of an incentive, she said.

Kerr became one of the first participants in Giles' modern apprenticeships programme that the company began running in 1997.

Six Giles' employees have now passed through the 12-part programme, of which the Insurance Foundation Certificate is a compulsory part.

In addition to the General Insurance Standards Council (GISC)-required certificate, trainees must also prove competency in the following areas: maintaining relationships with other people, health and safety and security and confidentiality.

There are further optional units including evaluation of products and services, co-ordination of information and advice to retail clients, servicing of new business, servicing of existing business, co-ordination of the resolution of claims for uninsured elements and co-ordination of the resolution of claims for insured elements.

There are also three units in customer service, and core skills units such as problem solving, information technology, personal effectiveness, communication and literacy.

Giles' training and development manager Janet Hutchison said setting up the programme, which was funded by Scottish Enterprise Ayrshire, had been a phenomenal amount of work.

“I don't think any of us had anticipated how hard it would be, but now we're reaping the benefits,” she said.

“When we started the programme, we had 60 employees. Within three years the workforce had doubled and today the company employs 150 staff. It's a fantastic achievement.”

Giles Insurance Brokers was founded 32 years ago by Michael Giles and is now directed by his sons Nick and Chris.

Nick Giles said the programme had been established during three very busy years at the brokerage, but said it had become an integral part in its training structure.

“It allows us to develop our young people fast. This in turn allows us to expand rapidly without the fear of losing our tight handle on our operating systems or customer care,” he said.

Growing their own

Hutchison said a desire to grow, and a dearth of appropriate skills in the local area had prompted the creation of the programme.

“They had plans to expand the business but they had to train existing staff and get a high calibre of new staff to do that,” she said.

She said staff had soon adapted to the training, which is done through two-hour workshops every fortnight, with in-house trainers travelling from branch to branch.

“To start with, it was a case of ‘why me, I've left school' but now it's an excellent recruitment programme,” Hutchison said.

“When people see how well other people are doing and the feel-good factor involved, they approach us for training.”

Giles currently has 40 staff working toward either level two vocational qualifications or their modern apprenticeship.

Ten employees have already achieved their level two insurance general qualifications and two of the six who passed their apprenticeships are now in management positions.

Hutchison said the programme was one of the first of its kind in Scotland. The programme offered a structured learning framework, which produces qualified and skilled staff with a nationally recognised qualification, she said.

“As far as we're aware, no one else within the insurance industry in Scotland is anywhere near equalling the success of our programme,” Hutchison said.

Kerr, who started at Giles as a clerk in the motor department, said the three-year apprenticeship had been difficult but rewarding.

“It was a struggle sometimes but it was worth it,” she said.

“For each section you complete, you had to prove that you'd covered the criteria by putting forward case studies.”

Kerr has now registered to study for the Certificate of Insurance Practice and is working as an executive sales advisor. With her apprenticeship behind her and more learning to come, she said the future at Giles was full of possibilities. “I just want to see how far I can go,” she said.