The industry is making positive steps to attract school leavers and graduates, but more can be done says Terri Grainger

The 2005 CII-commissioned research by the Cass Business School has attracted a great deal of publicity. Headlines have been quoting figures that 90% of graduates would not consider a career in insurance. Subsequently, there has also been a great deal of press coverage on the CII's talent initiative which was formulated to begin tackling the problems the industry has in recruiting quality young people into the insurance industry.

At its annual conference in October, the CII outlined its strategy to target all 400 UK universities, with 6,000 schools and colleges to be addressed shortly after. Its objectives are to improve the profile of insurance careers, by providing industry literature and a presence on campus.

Currently 70% of insurance industry recruiters do not give information to careers staff and 80% do not give on-campus presentations. The project also comprises a web portal where case studies can be found in addition to a search engine allowing users to search by company or region.

This will particularly benefit smaller regional brokers that do not have a strong brand name or the resource to self promote. Ultimately, the CII wants to increase graduate numbers from 10% to 30% within five years and thus increase the number of people making a conscious choice to join the industry.

The CII should be commended for the work it has done so far in this historically neglected area. The talent initiative will help attract more high calibre people into insurance. It will also encourage the industry to work together to shed the lethargic image still associated with the sector.

The CII is also right to target school and college leavers, as a university education is posing a more expensive option than ever for students. Insurance allows individuals to work while gaining qualifications, thus avoiding the levels of debt accumulated by university graduates. It will also assist in continuing to attract the entrepreneur who is not always suited to full time further education.

However, there are further areas the CII should ensure it addresses to really make the student recruitment drive effective in the longer term. It should be remembered that the CII cannot and should not carry the full burden of recruiting talent into the insurance industry.

The literature presented during the October launch should be sent to local CII councils as soon as possible. After all, it is the local councils that are often initially approached to attend careers fairs. This will increase the momentum of the careers drive.

To assist in attracting graduates into the insurance industry, more active steps should be made to improve the standing of insurance professional qualifications both within the industry itself and externally.

This is not a task for the CII alone. Instead, a general shift in the industries' working practices and culture is required. Many argue professional qualifications should be made compulsory, at least at the most senior levels.

ACII status
This is not revolutionary when compared with other professional industries, such as accountancy or law. At the very least, election to ACII in particular, as it is asserted to be a degree level qualification, should bring an increase in both salary and authority, setting holders apart from those who do not require qualifications to do their job.

The prestige and profile of insurance qualifications is central to the perceived professionalism of insurance. The CII has recently asked its members whether it should seek formal degree awarding powers. Only by doing this will the ACII truly be recognised and looked upon outside the industry with the respect it deserves.

Additionally, the CII should take care to avoid merely marketing insurance to graduates and then just waiting to see what happens. While more graduates will be a positive thing, generating too much demand in this area will lead to disappointment and failure to meet expectations.

At the CII Conference in October, AXA chief executive Peter Hubbard stated that there will not be hundreds of roles at graduate level like some other industries provide. This is an important point for the CII to remember and communicate to graduates during its marketing campaign.

While there are undoubtedly areas the CII should address to ensure its talent drive is as effective as possible over the longer term, it is making positive moves in the right direction.

Clearly the industry itself can do a lot to improve its own image. In this respect for example, Zurich and Hiscox should be acknowledged for the more intellectual way they portray the insurance industry through their advertising. It should always be remembered that while advertising can assist in growing particular areas of business it is also a window through which potential employees view the industry.

Yet it is not just a matter of attracting talent. Talent also has to be developed. More focus needs to be placed on managing graduate careers. Young people are looking for a well-defined career path, training and reward structure.

The CII's commendable efforts will be wasted if it generates a situation where there are plenty of young people joining the industry, but companies are unable to keep them.

Do firms really have support mechanisms in place for these incoming graduates and roles available to match expectation? Are the mechanisms in place across the business, in areas such as marketing and HR and not just underwriting and claims or account broking?

Recent figures regarding turnover of existing staff should not be ignored. The 2006 National Management salary survey reveals a labour turnover rate of 13% in the insurance sector compared to the national average of 11.9%.

A certain amount of labour turnover can be a good thing, but clearly as well as investing in the future of the industry, current trends suggest the need to invest in existing staff. If they are managed and trained correctly they could form the best talent pool for the insurance market.

Neither can the bigger questions be ignored - why would anyone actively seek to join an apparently shrinking industry? While generally the biggest cost to companies is its staff, recent redundancies made to save costs will have a negative impact on attracting young talent to the industry. IT

Terri Grainger is executive consultant at Mansion House Recruitment