The Insurance Times Young Professionals advisory board discusses the attitude of the industry to recruitment and developing talent

Just over 11 years ago when I first entered the insurance industry, I attended various seminars and listened to market leaders advocate the need for a joined-up strategy to themes such as professionalism, standards, qualifications, skills, and ethics, plus retaining high calibre staff. Sitting at the table I experienced that weird feeling of déjà vu. Has the industry not moved on?

During our round-table discussion, it was evident that we all agreed passionately that these themes were vitally important to the reputation and future success of the industry. Our focus was drawn to the theme of attracting and retaining the best talent in the industry.

Let's face it, not many of us dreamed of working in the insurance or financial services industry while at school. But over 340,000 of us work within the industry, so it must be doing something right.

The consensus here is that the industry had made some progress with these themes. However we should do more. As an industry we appear not to have a holistic approach to these inter-related themes. The CII and Cila have made great strides independently, but only in recent times has there been a collaborative approach. But what about the other professional bodies and trade associations? We still appear to be working in sector silos rather than collaborating for the benefit of all.

' Allan Clare, NFU Mutual

Being surrounded by some of the best insurance brains in the world, not to mention the huge charisma of Lord Hunt of Wirral, there certainly does not seem to be any problem about our reputation or how to attract the best young blood.

With Bob Beckett, Lord Hunt and François-Xavier Boisseau passionately discussing what 'we' need to do about marketing our profession to university graduates, it is clear their thoughts are on the next generation of directors in the London market.

Does this mean they are suggesting we do not have a problem with attracting the right people for other positions or for the provincial market, or do they feel these other areas are not that important?

When we discussed the perception of insurance, the table did not give credit to the excellent job that the likes of Churchill and NU Direct have done to promote how innovative, professional and trustworthy we are. And, no matter how dynamic our companies are insurance will never be a sexy product.

Toby Foster made an interesting point that he has neither a degree nor insurance qualification but, with his incredibly impressive history, surely this is evidence that with the right skills, determination and personality our profession has an open career path to a new generation of people and not robots.

' Julian Edwards , MCE

We have a huge amount to offer young people and yet many are put off by an image they regard as grey and uncaring. Even those who do enter our business seem to fall into it by accident.

Most graduates simply fail to see insurance as a genuine career option. We need to get much closer at an early stage to better understand their thinking, change perceptions and show what our industry really has to offer.

There are plenty of positive messages and we already do much to support business and consumers. The problem is that our customers (and potential future employees) don't seem to get the good news.

Take a recent example. Although there is evidence that we treat customers pretty fairly, (a tiny percentage of successful ombudsman complaints against 77 million policies issued annually) the very existence of the FSA's 'treating customers fairly' initiative seems to suggest the exact opposite. Much more needs to be done to create a positive buzz about what we do.

It is only then that we can compete for the best brains on offer and focus on retaining them through professional development and a value led culture. I fully support the CII's promotion of technical excellence through professional qualifications, but we must get the fundamentals right too if we are to rebuild our reputation.

' Laura Wilkinson, Groupama Insurances

The senior executives who participated in the session showed a strong determination to provide challenging and rewarding careers to young professionals working in insurance.

As an industry which is vital to the success of the world economy, insurance should be high on the target list of aspiring graduate trainees or school leavers.

I am particularly interested in how companies can attract, develop and retain talented graduates.

Bob Beckett raised the important subject of the present lack of industry roadshows and presentations to universities. I feel closer links need to be encouraged between the CII, insurance companies, brokers and universities in order to increase the visibility of insurance to graduates.

François-Xavier Boisseau correctly highlighted that it is not just a matter of attracting talent, it has to be developed. More focus needs to be placed on managing graduates' careers, providing them with the training and experience to enable them to reach the senior positions they aspire to.

I agree with Lord Hunt that the prestige and profile of insurance qualifications is central to the perceived professionalism of insurance. Too often have they been accepted by employers as optional rather than compulsory and this needs to change.

Communication with graduates is important: Julian James is right to focus on seeking to ask graduates what they are looking for from a career and how insurance can offer them the challenges they are seeking.

While I was pleased with the positive points made by the panel, it must be said that lip service is not enough and the industry collectively must continue to work to raise its public profile and to show commitment to the development of talented young staff.

' Martin Davidson, Willis

Unexciting, boring...can that be us?
One of the challenges facing our industry is attracting young people. They perceive the industry as unexciting and boring, like Dickens' image of Bob Crachett hunched over a ledger writing with a quill pen by candle light.

And when I was at university, at none of the career fairs was there a significant presence from any of the insurance bodies, so there wasn't anything to challenge this stereotype.

To counter this, as an industry we need to publicise how enthusiastic many young insurance professionals are about their role. Young people passionate about their industry need to pass that on at career fairs and the like.

Young people are looking for a well-defined career path, training and reward structure. If we can demonstrate this, the old stereotypical image will soon be broken down and the industry can look forward to an influx of young people with new ideas, and energy to maintain the dynamism of this exciting and vibrant market.

' Dawn Hammond, Intech Solutions