Building a workforce for the future

14-Dec-2015 12:36:31 / by The Insurance Institute

The Insurance Institute

Apprenticeships key to unlocking a new pool of insurance talent

With the insurance industry suffering from a crisis in talent acquisition, the announcement of the approval of a professional apprenticeship programme for the insurance sector has been warmly welcomed throughout the industry.

The Government recently announced the expansion of the current national apprenticeship programme into new, developing industries. Following this, The Insurance Institute in collaboration with Zurich Insurance, submitted a request for the development of an Insurance Practitioner Apprenticeship, which was approved on 23 July 2015.

The development of the apprenticeship is now underway and is being managed by The Insurance Institute under the guidance of a steering group of cross-industry representatives. It is envisioned that the apprenticeship will provide a new entry path into the industry, while helping to build a new pool of talent from which organisations can recruit.

CEO of The Insurance Institute Eamon Shackleton met with Ciaran Phelan of the IBA to discuss the benefits of developing an apprenticeship programme and why the industry must get behind it.


Where did the idea for developing an apprenticeship scheme come from, Eamon?

There were a few different factors that inspired us, along with Zurich, to submit an application to the Apprenticeship Council. It’s no secret that the industry has experienced something of a vacuum in talent acquisition and development in recent years. Insurance just isn’t seen as an attractive career option and organisations are finding themselves in a war for talent with huge multinationals like Google and Facebook.

On the other hand, the university graduates who do come into the sector rarely have the key workplace competencies they need to hit the ground running, nor are they MCC compliant. Not only is this costing organisations in terms of training and development, but we now have a cohort of employees who’ve become disengaged and disheartened by the idea of having to do even more exams after three or four years of college.

We’ve seen a successful apprenticeship programme at work in Zurich, so it seemed like the natural solution for both employer and employee to develop a national standard in the form of a government-approved apprenticeship programme, which is QQI accredited, that can be rolled out across any insurance business.


When we think of apprenticeships, the insurance industry doesn’t naturally come to mind.

In this country, we traditionally think of apprenticeships as being exclusively trade-based; however, if we look to our neighbours in the UK or to our European counterparts, we can see just how successful professional apprenticeships in the financial services sector have been. It must also be remembered that professions such as law and accountancy have always successfully operated such schemes.

We envision that the General Insurance Practitioner apprenticeship will provide the required skills and competencies needed by the Irish insurance market in the future. For employers, the scheme is an excellent way for their staff to learn key skills in a cost-effective and comprehensive manner and for the apprentices themselves, it is a very worthwhile alternative to the traditional third level university route.

As you’ll be able to testify Ciaran, the apprenticeship model has been around for quite a while in insurance. Plenty of the directors and senior executives within the industry would have come in on an apprenticeship model and I know they could not speak more highly of the experience.

Although the industry has gone through a wealth of change since then, the importance of marrying on-the-job learning with academic knowledge has only increased. So, it makes sense to breathe new life into that model that worked so well for our peers and create a 21st century approach, to provide high-quality professional training and a clear career path for the new generation of job seekers.


What will the apprenticeship programme involve?

While still very much in the development phase, the key components will involve equipping the apprentice with technical, academic, business and personal skills and competencies through a combination of on and off the job training.

On the academic front, apprentices will complete the Professional Diploma in Insurance (CIP) through The Insurance Institute as well as business modules where both basic and advanced industry relevant skills will be taught. The key workplace skills will be learned on the job with the help of a mentor, provided by the employer.


In a time when organisations are facing increasing financial pressure, why should budgeting for apprenticeships be on the agenda?

Simply put, it’s about future proofing our industry. It is very easy for us to dismiss these kinds of initiatives due to time or budgetary pressures, but it is vital that we look beyond our day-to-day and see the apprenticeship as a key component in the future sustainability of our organisations.

We anticipate that the scheme will be primarily employer-led, with some funding from government, making it a cost-effective way for organisations to develop their workforce in the long term. While of course we all need to be frugal with our budgets, this is a necessary investment in the development of our industry’s talent pool and in the sector’s future.

Ultimately, it’s our aim that those who come through the apprenticeship programme will form our Boards, CEOs and Senior Executives of the future.


Who is involved in developing the programme further?

The steering group is made up of cross-functional team of HR professionals, employers, directors and others from both insurers, brokers and loss adjusters around the country, together with the involvement of Insurance Ireland and of course your own organisation, the IBA. The group has been tasked with creating the apprenticeship standards and assessment criteria, as well as developing a communications plan for when the programme launches.

This involvement from the industry is essential as the programme must be employer-driven to establish the apprenticeship as a vibrant, sustainable and attractive choice for those interested in pursuing a career in insurance.


So where are we now in the development stage?

The project plan in respect of the development phase was submitted on 8 October to the Apprenticeship Council. We’re currently awaiting approval of the project plans and recommendations on development funding so that progress can be made. We expect the programme to launch in late 2016.


If you have any queries around the Apprenticeship development or would like to get involved, please do not hesitate to contact Sandra Harvey-Graham on 01 645 6641 or