Nicky Amor says the industry needs a more dynamic way of recruiting and training people

It's official. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has released a report stating that employers are finding it difficult to recruit staff with the right skill sets.

Headlines on the BBC news channels suggest that four out of five bosses are looking for opportunities to recruit people with more skills.

According to the CIPD's annual Recruitment, Retention and Turnover survey, organisations are responding to recruitment difficulties and new age regulations by adapting their recruitment and retention policies and actively targeting older workers.

The study shows that 70% of employers are actively seeking to recruit people aged between 55 and pension age, while 31% of organisations are seeking to recruit people already entitled to the state pension.

It seems that no matter which industry you look at within the UK, the problems are very similar. Where are we going to find skilled staff, let alone our leaders of the future? How are we going to keep standards in the industry high? What are we doing to manage the road ahead? Who is taking action?

There is a need for a lead to be taken by industry catalysts who can trail blaze the way to seeing, thinking and, more importantly, doing things differently in the area of training and recruitment.

In short, we should be looking for new more dynamic ways of managing people into the industry.

Our august body the CII has to take a lead. It is the training standards body for the industry and must ensure that we attract staff and graduates of all levels into the industry. And indeed it has a programme to do just that.

Recent discussions with the CII suggest that the new talent focus group formed late 2005 has some worthy aims.

They start with the need to attract graduates into the insurance market, which will mean positioning insurance as a serious and worthwhile career. Competition for the best from banking, law and accountancy has always been fierce, and mostly we know who has won the promotional battle.

Steve Wellard, CII communications director, comments: "It is imperative that we get support from the major players within the industry. Recently completed research found that 75% of company recruiters confirmed they couldn't get the level of talent they were looking for to take the company forward.

"This has to become a boardroom issue, we need to position the industry to make it a career of choice for graduates.

"This also means addressing the issue surrounding funding of promotional recruitment campaigns. They need to be sustainable not just for now but for the long term."

CIPD research also shows that employers are actively targeting young people, with 74% of organisations actively trying to recruit 16-24 year olds. Increasingly there appears to be a philosophy to "grow your own" across many industries.

Comparing how much other industries spend to attract graduates into their sectors, it appears that insurance falls woefully short. The top four accountancy firms continue to spend millions, while investment by the insurance sector has remained static for the past few years.

Philosophical change
The CII needs to engage with the industry, employers and existing employees, as there has to be an industry wide commitment to attracting new talented individuals. This will, in many instances, mean a philosophical change. We will have to stop doing down insurance and start promoting it as a career of choice.

So how do you position insurance to make it a sexy proposition? James Calvert, a recent recruit of people suppliers to the industry Talent&Pro, explains why he joined the industry.

He said his was a very conscious decision. "I understood that there was immense scope and diversity within the insurance industry. You don't just have to be one thing. Plus insurance is not an industry that'll go away, it was important to me that I could build a career. I see insurance as a platform for me to use my skill set," he says.

Calvert was lucky he had family and friends to introduce him to the sector, but wryly notes that there were no general insurers at the university recruitment fairs.

Asked why he chose his current employer Calvert says: "Talent&Pro talked about investing in me. I like its business model of developing people for the market. I get wide company experience across different aspects of the industry and it invests heavily in training both for the ACII and additional softer skills like training in communication."

Good training providing the ability to work across many areas of insurance is clearly attractive. And yet the only way of delivering it, is generally through large organisations, which have a spread of business activities that can provide insight and a challenge to hungry, young graduates through a rounded training programme.

Coordinate support
The alternative is for the industry to be brave and coordinate or support its own cross-skills training organisation. The training could be coordinated by the CII to ensure rounded, professional graduates get the skills they require across different disciplines.

This approach may ensure that trained personnel stay within the industry and by assisting them to choose the right vocation of their choice, will feel more integrated and committed - job satisfaction will be higher.

It will also ensure that they understand how the market is interdependent, with reinsurers, insurers, underwriters, claims teams, brokers, operations, sales, marketing, technology, project management, finance, and corporate management contributing their specialist skills. There's something for everyone.

A team that appears to have the communication right is Talent&Pro. It recruits graduates into the insurance industry by going out into the student community and linking with universities. It has a fast track training and mentoring programme that really puts the graduate recruits through their paces.

Calvert mentions the commitment that Talent&Pro expected of its staff, both in respect of their studies and also in respect of their work performance.

The graduates coming in as initial stage 'talents' are expected to graft and deliver high productivity and professionalism from the first moment. For that, they understand they will get a broad spectrum of insurance work and, if they spot something that suits their particular talents, they get an opportunity to specialise in that area.

After three intensive years the 'talents' then get the opportunity to get promoted into a world of the 'pros'. They are generally highly educated, with experience gained at a variety of insurance organisations, such as reinsurers, Lloyd's and international brokers. This may be a model in which the CII could play a part.

Marc Wilson, UK Talent&Pro development director, comments: "We are in the initial stages of discussions with the CII regarding a fast-track ACII programme, which will assist our own internal training of staff and allow our 'talents' to gain a market-recognised qualification much quicker than they are currently able to do.

"We set great store by recruiting high class graduates into the industry, so that we can supply outstanding people to the market. Although it is early days we very much hope that the CII will use the Talent&Pro team as a pilot scheme."

There is undoubtedly a significant challenge ahead to ensure that the industry has the requisite skill set and no shortage of personnel willing and able to take up the next challenges of leadership.

The talent focus group has an important role both within its own organisations and in the wider industry to promote personnel recruitment, training, and development to support the needs of the industry.

Undoubtedly, the marketing skill of the CII will play a major role in this development. And as Calvert says: "If the stats are true, and by 2016, 60% of today's management are retired, where are the new management teams going to come from?" IT

' Nicky Amor is a strategy consultant to the insurance sector