Amid growing fears that loss-adjusting skills are dying out, some companies have started taking action to attract more graduates to the sector. Muireann Bolger reports

Imagine a job that one day puts you at the scene of an explosion and the next investigating the theft of a priceless work of art. Or how about jetting off to the Caribbean at a moment’s notice to deal with a catastrophe? It may sound like the life of a James Bond-style secret agent but according to the Chartered Institute of Loss Adjusters (CILA) these are some of the things you could get up to as a loss adjuster.

Yet until recently the role has failed to muster up enthusiasm among graduates. While the average age in the profession has risen steadily, the pool of potential new recruits has shrunk.

In response to mounting fears of a skills shortage, claims specialist Cunningham Lindsey has launched an intensive five-year scheme to train eight graduates as loss adjusters.

Annahita Mansourpour, a law and economics graduate who is set to join the training scheme, believes the career promises excitement and variety. “It offers so much more than an average job. It is a chance to get out of the office and really help people,” she says.

The company plans to continue the scheme over the next few years, recruiting three or four graduates a year.

This is not the only sign of an effort to safeguard loss adjusting skills. Essex-based Garwyn runs a six-month trainee adjuster programme to educate staff in core skills, while global claims management specialist Crawford has developed an externally accredited Masters degree with Anglia Ruskin University to train loss adjusters, surveyors and engineers.

Roy Shevlin, head of the specialist adjusting network at Cunningham Lindsey, believes such action is a vital lifeline. “It is not the immediate future we need to be concerned about but the next stage,” he says. “We have the staff to replace those who retire in the next few years. But it is the following generation we need to train and, most importantly, provide with supervised experience.”

He says the average age of a loss adjuster in Cunningham Lindsey is 46; the median age of those in charge of larger claims older still.

“If these skills die out, loss adjusting will die out,” says Shevlin. “Who would carry out that role? Who is going to be there to control costs and who is going to be there to offer care to the policyholder in their time of need?”

Industry experts say the problem has arisen because the sector has neglected graduates in favour of recruiting from within the industry or from areas such as chartered surveying or accountancy. But now that this ageing source of labour is drying up the industry needs to step up efforts to attract graduates, believes Christine Millar, Crawford’s UK people development manager.

“Research by the CII and others indicates that an insurance career is not even on the radar for many young graduates, so winning the war for talent has never been more important,” she says.

Nick Patterson, commercial director of Garwyn, believes many young people are oblivious to the rewards of working in the sector. “We have failed to sell what a good job this is,” he says. “Loss adjusting gives you an opportunity to meet people from different walks of life and different industries. It gives you not only technical challenges in how you manage a claim but also challenges in how you manage people.”

The message is getting through to some career starters. Building surveying graduate John Newnes turned down two jobs in the midst of a recession to join the Cunningham Lindsey scheme.

“This is a life-changing opportunity,” he says. “Often people can be on an emotional rollercoaster when dealing with a claim. I love the fact that I will be able to use what I have studied to help people out.”

Over the next five years, Newnes and Mansourpour will learn the insurance theory necessary to achieve chartered status, while also gaining practical experience in dealing with routine liability claims. They will also work in supervised teams handling claims of more than £100,000 – the area in which they will eventually specialise.

They both relish the thought of what lies ahead. “It is quite daunting when you think about it,” says Newnes. “After I qualify, I will have 30 years to progress through the industry and the subject is so wide. There are so many areas I could get involved.”

Mansourpour is just as excited. “I really like the idea of leading a team that handles claims of £100,000 and more. It will be really difficult but fun as well.”

CILA president Angus Tucker says the industry could see a revival of interest in loss adjusting among young people as the turbulent financial crisis encourages graduates to look more closely at the insurance world. “They may think insurance is an attractive alternative to banking,” he says.

CILA is hoping to capitalise on this interest by sending DVDs on career opportunities in insurance to universities and updating its own loss adjuster training syllabus.

Mansourpour is confident there will be a surge of interest in insurance as graduates shun less stable careers. “The job security in banking is fairly low at the moment. I think people are looking at more diverse financial careers.”

Newnes suspects some of his friends who opted for a career in banking are jealous of his position at a time when graduate placements are like gold dust.

“I am not really susceptible to the market changes they are,” he says. “Insurance is basically a secure job. As the market will be flooded by my generation, or younger, looking to forge long careers, this is one of the few sectors that can match their employment needs with varying opportunities.”

Nothing can be taken for granted though. Industry stalwarts warn that despite the resurgence of interest in loss adjusting, only some recruits will have the special qualities required by a top-class practitioner.

“Claims expertise is very specific. It is not something that everybody has,” says Tucker. “You can have the best technical ability in the world but if you are not able to deal with people face to face it is no use.”

Millar agrees that a newcomer to loss adjusting needs a wide range of skills. “The ability to multitask, meet deadlines and deal professionally with others are all important. There is also a need to be pragmatic and empathetic.”

As well as the flexibility to jet off to the Caribbean at a moment’s notice, of course.