As National Apprenticeship Week sheds light on apprenticeships, we hear from one company that’s leading the way

While apprenticeships are not a new concept, the introduction of the Apprenticeship Levy in 2017 was meant to encourage more employers to offer them, creating a mainstream alternative route into employment.

Unfortunately, the scheme is off to a faltering start, with research showing a decline in the number of apprentices recruited – even among employers who pay the levy.

However, all is not lost. Following five years of success with its own apprenticeship scheme, Zurich has joined the ranks of several ‘Trailblazer’ companies helping to develop new apprenticeship standards. These ‘Trailblazer’ employers have implemented the new standards for their sectors, and are moving quickly to show how the new system works in practice.

Addressing skills shortages

One of the main benefits has been in addressing skills gaps. There are many sectors in the UK that have great difficulty recruiting to address the ‘brain drain’ that occurs when older generations retire. For instance, the oil and gas sector and the financial advice sector are really struggling with the challenges of an ageing workforce.

Insurance is another sector where this proves problematic. But Zurich has found that apprenticeships can help.

The insurance company set up a programme comprising of an apprenticeship, summer internship and graduate programme, to attract new talent and address specific skills shortages in the organisation.

The scheme covers four key elements:

  • · Insurance – underwriting, claims, operations etc.
  • · Actuarial – pricing, reserving and risk
  • · Finance – supporting completion and reporting of the financial results
  • · Compliance – responsibility for meeting the customer and regulatory obligations

Once apprentices are recruited they go through supported and intensive training. Typically, they will have assessment-based learning delivered by webinars, face-to-face training, sessions with their apprenticeship coach and the ability to share knowledge with their peers.

The training is made up of 10% learning and 20% participating. Participation involves interactions with an apprentice coach, line manager and mentor. The final 70% is applying the knowledge to the job at hand, which helps that knowledge stick.

This system allows individuals to receive all the training and support they need, meaning Zurich can prepare properly and create a workforce that is futureproofed against skills gaps.

Alison Maskell, UK Early Careers Manager at Zurich, explains: “It provides a great opportunity to fill the future needs of the business and create a fantastic pipeline.”

Diversifying the workforce

Another benefit for Zurich is that the apprenticeship scheme has helped diversify the workforce.

Although there are many routes into the organisation, one of the major strengths of the programme is that it encourages more young people into a career that they might not otherwise have considered. After all, plenty of people want to be ballerinas or astronauts when they grow up, but far fewer will even know what an insurance adjuster is – let alone how to get on the career ladder.

Alison Maskell, UK Early Careers Manager at Zurich, explains: “Typically, younger people are not aware how vibrant, diverse and interesting a career in insurance can be. So with apprenticeships, companies like Zurich are able to reach a broader demographic than they would have previously been able to.”

It also helps young people find their niche within the organisation. She adds. “[Apprentices] may also have a natural propensity for a certain area within the business that they may otherwise have been unaware of.”

It doesn’t just help set new recruits on the right path, either, but can have knock on effects throughout the organisations as existing and new members of staff share their knowledge.

Better employee retention

As apprentices tend to be loyal to their employers, an added bonus can be an improvement in employee retention. However, to make this work, companies must ensure that there are good career progression opportunities for their apprentices.

At Zurich, apprentices can now progress to a level that was previously only attainable by going to university. Maskell explains:  “There is going to be a link for the level 4 actuarial standard apprenticeship, and if the organisation is able to support them, they can move on to level 7 and become fully qualified actuaries. Which has been unattainable outside of having a degree.”

Zurich also support apprenticeship degrees and degree level apprenticeships. Apprentices need to be committed in all capacities, as they have to balance their everyday workload as well as their studies. The outcome for them will be attaining qualifications that are relevant to the career path they have chosen.

“While I am not taking away anything from university, apprenticeships offer a different path that compliments different skillsets.” Maskell adds.

Once apprenticeships have completed their programme with Zurich, they are given the opportunity to become a permanent employee.

Getting management buy in

The strength of Zurich’s apprenticeship programme lies in the fact that the senior management fully support it. The UK Head of Commercial Insurance, Vincio Cellerini began his career as an apprentice and says that it provided him with a “structured and well-framed environment”.

Now he’s in a senior position within the company, Cellerini values feedback from the new crops of apprentices. He has regular catch-ups where they ‘mentor’ him on what the world is like now and give a fresh perspective on how the company is viewed.

Having first-hand experience of the value apprentices can bring to a business, Zurich are urging other organisations to take advantage of the apprenticeship levy.

As Maskell says: “Organisations need to look to the future rather than immediate requirements. Particularly for larger organisations you need to set your strategy to develop a pipeline to replace the older workforce who will be retiring and moving on.”