· Features

Businesses must be proactive in shaping apprenticeships

To attract and develop the best talent into the insurance industry, companies need to collaborate and provide quality, respected apprenticeships.

I am fortunate to have worked with hugely talented individuals and to have been led by a succession of truly inspiring people. I am in no doubt that these people and many like them are the reason the insurance industry is a world leader. One of the greatest risks the sector faces, however, is maintaining this lead. 

Recognising this threat, the government published the Insurance Growth Action Plan in December 2013, calling on the industry to confront the increased global competition.

There were many thoughtful proposals but the most critical was focused on attracting and developing the best talent.

This can’t be left to chance or be the sole responsibility of our universities. Indeed, to rely on the university system alone would be to limit the pool of high potential talent. The leaders of tomorrow will be a mixture of those with vocational and academic backgrounds. To realise this, we need to be proactive in securing our future talent base. The apprenticeship is not only the wave of the future, it is a successful model rooted in our history and tradition.

Challenged by government to double the number of apprenticeships over the next five years we have responded with gusto, but we can’t stand still.

For this reason companies from across the insurance industry came together earlier this year to launch an apprenticeships collaboration. Part of the programme is the government’s ‘trailblazer’ scheme, designed to raise standards and align apprenticeships to the needs of business. For our sector that means there will be a systematic framework of training and skills so that insurance apprentices can expect the same rigorous training and qualifications everywhere.

This is good progress, but there is still more work to be done. To make full use of the growing number of opportunities available, young people must be fully aware of their options.

We must continue to challenge dogma that positions vocational qualifications as secondary to university degrees. Traditional trades have used apprenticeships to stay close to the needs of employers and the market. But it is now time to recognise the opportunities in high growth areas of our economy, including financial services.

We are making it clear that apprenticeships are a viable and respected route from education into professional work. In this respect, schools have a significant role to play; those advising young people on their future career paths must be educated about the range of apprenticeships on offer.

But the most important partners in this endeavour are the young people themselves. ‘Digital natives’ entering the workplace today are well equipped to understand the challenges ahead for businesses. This is welcome, but there are crucial skills they must learn that no amount of classroom teaching can provide. These come with experience, through mentoring and professional networks that only on-the-job training can offer.

It is for this reason that the next phase of our industry-wide apprenticeship programme will focus on cultivating an apprentice network to help young people develop business connections.

The biggest threat to the industry is not developing the talent of today properly – but it won’t happen on our watch. 

Dominic Christian is executive chairman of Aon Benfield International and CEO of Aon UK