If there is only one certainty in life, it is surely that there are no certainties. None of us can be sure of what is around the corner, and therefore, regardless of whether we are in a boom or bust economy, people will always need insurance to safeguard against the unexpected.
But while it is undoubtedly true that the insurance industry will remain strong whatever the economic climate, finding the right staff to keep the sector running on an even keel isn't always so easy – and this is where the apprenticeship programme comes in.
Dermot Murray, chief executive of The Insurance Institute, the professional and educational body for the industry since 1885, said hiring an apprentice was hugely beneficial for employers as they can be sure of someone who is dedicated to developing their career within the industry.
One of the biggest problems facing employers is recruiting and retaining good people, he said.
With an apprenticeship, you are offering more than just a job, you are offering the potential for a good career. And this is a very attractive offer which gives employers the opportunity to employ people with a career mindset rather than a job mindset – someone who wants to develop their working life within the insurance industry rather than someone who might try it for a year and then think they 'd like a change.
So this allows employers access to quality employees and means they can invest in the future both of their apprentices and their company.
The Insurance Practitioner Apprenticeship with The Insurance Institute was the first of its kind in Ireland and combines a Level 8 Honours Degree with the practical learning one gets on the job. The three-year programme sees participants gain an Accredited Product Advisor (APA) designation in their first year, in the second year they will sit their professional exams and obtain a Certificate in Insurance Practice (CIP) or Qualified Financial Advisor (QFA) designation, and in their third and final year, they will achieve their honours degree in insurance practice.
Achieving such a high level of education while working on the job is the most obvious benefit of an apprenticeship for the participant as this cuts out costly college fees and the need to travel far from home to study.
The apprenticeship programme is essentially a job which combines the fantastic opportunity to earn and learn ', said Murray. Participants will work a four-day week and then on either a Tuesday or Thursday will down tools, put on their headphones and head off to a virtual classroom for lectures.
The biggest advantage of this over a traditional college degree is, of course, that participants get paid, plus they are immediately transferring their academic learning to their job. So many people who are in third-level education have low-paid part-time jobs in order to try and make ends meet, whereas on this programme, they will be earning a decent full-time entry-level salary.
And because there are so many opportunities for apprenticeships all over the country, many can stay living at home which also cuts out the expensive rental costs often associated with third-level education.
The Insurance Practitioner Apprenticeship has been running since September 2016, and the first graduates received their degree in the summer of 2019. Of the 38 who have completed the three-year course, 65 per cent received a First, and Murray said this was indicative of a promising future.
We were absolutely delighted with the results achieved by our graduates last summer, he said. As well as achieving such high grades, they also produced some wonderful thesis projects on topics such as cyber insurance, climate change and flood defences – really good practical subjects which were of great benefit to their employers.
Of the 60 who started in 2016, 38 graduated in 2019 and some will graduate this year. We have funding from the state for 100 apprentices each year and the programme is open to people of all ages – we have people from 18 to 40 and it is evenly divided between school leavers, people who are upskilling and those who are returning to work or changing jobs.
There is no doubt in my mind that the programme will be a success. We were extremely happy with our first crop of graduates, both with their exam results and their theses. And the feedback we have been getting from their employers is very encouraging.
Cara Aiken, company director of Aiken Insurances Ltd, is a case in point. The company, which specialises in commercial business, took on its first apprentice in 2017 and a second one the following year – both are thriving within the business and their addition has been mutually beneficial.
The idea of an apprenticeship programme really appealed to us as we needed extra help on a junior level and liked the idea of taking on an enthusiastic employee without experience who we could train exactly the way we wanted, said Aiken. We noticed from the outset that both of our candidates are very driven and dedicated to their role which they have tackled with a very hands-on approach.
Each has worked with a mentor and supervisor who trains and helps them on a day-to-day basis. Just like any new employee, they start off on the phones, sitting with a senior member of staff and learning the ropes and since day one we have ensured that they gain experience in every aspect of the business so they can step into whichever area we need them to cover.
Our first apprentice is due to graduate this year and she has done really well since she started, already getting two salary increases and working in a number of different areas of the company.
So successful has the programme been that Aiken and her team are looking to take on another apprentice in 2020, and she said the role was open to anyone who is willing to put in the work and develop their career within the insurance industry.
We hope to take on another apprentice this year – this works very well for us as those who are further down the line can help the new recruit, she said. Once they graduate they will become full-time members of staff and the position is open to people of all ages, not just students – so it might suit someone who wants to return to work after their children have gone to school or someone who is looking for a career change.
It is a fantastic opportunity for the right person as insurance is a thriving industry which will always be a necessity and it 's also very beneficial for us as it is a cost-effective means of acquiring a dedicated and ambitious new employee.
Apprenticeship roles for 2020 will begin to appear online on earnandlearn.ie from now right up to the middle of the summer, and Murray said while this was where applicants could see what was on offer, it was also important for interested employers to engage early and advertise available posts as soon as possible.
The industry boss said while an apprenticeship is not suitable for someone who isn't self-motivated and willing to work hard, it is a hugely successful programme.
The one thing we have found is that if someone isn't quite mature and able for working and studying at the same time, they will struggle, he said. Yes, you will get paid and get a degree but it isn't easy as it requires you to do your job and ten hours of study each week on top of that – so if someone thinks this is a doddle, then it isn't for them. But for those willing to put in the work, it is a fantastic opportunity.
And it is also a great way for employers to find the leaders of the future and the people who will occupy the top suite in years to come. It is a win-win situation: giving the participants a great career opportunity and employers access to a rich pool of talent they wouldn't otherwise have access to.
The future looks bright for everyone involved.