It’s one thing to change what somebody thinks about something and another thing entirely to change how they think about it. It’s the latter proposition that concerns Carolyn Blunt (pictured) as growth & client success director at Davies’s learning solutions division, given that changing how people think about apprenticeships is the key to further unlocking these opportunities.
In 2019, Davies’s learning division launched the Insurance Apprenticeship Taskforce alongside major industry players including Lloyd’s of London, AXA XL, Marsh McLennan and Zurich, with the ambition of helping to shape the future of insurance apprenticeships. Members of the steering group (which was recently refreshed to include a representative from WTW) regularly come together to work out how to boost the prestige of apprenticeships alongside professional qualifications, she said, and to ensure the optimisation of talent attraction and retention.
“It’s a bit of a running joke in insurance that nobody leaves school saying, ‘I want to work in insurance’,” she said. “People tend to either fall into it or are guided into it by family members. A downside of this is that, as an industry, it lacks some diversity. Traditionally, it has been quite white and middle class, which is perpetuated by the families involved and by people not really knowing about insurance unless they’re consumers themselves. That’s something the taskforce is really keen to change and modernise.”
Against the backdrop of an ageing demographic and a shifting cultural mindset about the future of work, conversations about different routes into insurance are more critical than ever. Examining the inroads the taskforce has made since it began, Blunt highlighted that changing how people think about insurance and apprenticeships is a work in progress. However, recent developments in the higher education sector and governmental sectors are going some way to further move the dial.
“It used to be that it was when people hit the £28,000 per annum earnings, they would start paying back their student debt, but that has now been reduced to £25,000,” she said. “There’s speculation that a lot of graduates who are coming out of university with significant debt are going to be paying back money for a very long time.
“Particularly since the pandemic, when online teaching wasn’t giving people the university experience, more people are deciding it’s not worth taking the risk of going to university to potentially learn online and then come out with all that debt. They’re thinking, ‘I might as well start working and learning at the same time’. And more organisations are now putting together apprenticeships schemes, particularly for early careers.”
Read more: Insurance apprenticeships – what to look for
Interest in apprenticeship opportunities is being piqued by a variety of factors including the above, and she noted that the level of prestige associated with apprenticeships is also changing, albeit at a measured pace. One of the key findings to come out of the taskforce was that people take great pride in the professional qualifications they obtain via an apprenticeship from the CII. They’re proud to put ‘ACII’ on their email signature, she said, but they don’t put ‘senior insurance professional, ACII’ which is the designation of the apprenticeship.
The taskforce determined that it was necessary to create a cultural change to empower people to feel proud of that designation, and the dedication and hard work it took to achieve. So it worked with a non-profit organisation called Badge Nation, the CII and Zurich’s Jude Pilcher to come up with a digital badge that companies can purchase and download for apprentices to use on their signatures once they’ve passed their exams and their apprenticeship.
“It’s not instant, but by getting more of that out into the sector, and with people seeing that on other people’s email signatures, over time people start to recognise [the designation],” she said. “Where the prestige for the ACII comes from in a lot of places is that people see it on the signatures of the more senior leaders in the business and think, ‘that’s what I want to have’."
The Davies team are particularly busy around National Apprenticeship Week, she said, and keep active in the media and on social to raise awareness of apprenticeships and the opportunities they offer. Apprenticeships need to change in people’s minds, she said, they’re not just about trades or even just early careers and graduates. An apprenticeship is an opportunity for all existing staff to avail of further professional development.
“The levy fund is now becoming an organisation’s first choice to fund people development,” she said. “Many employers are saying they have a levy-first rule. If you come to your L&D department and say you want to do a qualification or training, they will look and see if it can be funded by the levy first. And that means that more people are actually doing apprenticeships at different stages in their lives and careers, and making sure that they receive the opportunity to learn with a supportive, long-term, structured approach.”
Different sectors have different specialist providers who are able to do quite prestigious work, she said, and that’s what Davies is aiming to do for insurance. She’d love to get rid of the word ‘apprenticeships’, as it is a word mired in confusion, but seeing as it’s not going away any time soon, the next best thing is to bring the word out into the open – to open up discussions around it and change the slant of those conversations.
“And the more line managers seen to be getting involved in apprenticeships, the more helpful that is,” she said. “Later this year, we’re launching a new apprenticeship programme called Learning Mentor. It’s a learning mentor level three programme, so if I’m a line manager of 10 graduates, while they’re going through their senior insurance apprenticeship, I can be going through my learning mentor apprenticeship.
“That means I’ve got hands-on experience of what it means to be an apprentice, but also that what I’m learning is relevant to supporting [my team’s] learning on that programme. It’s helpful when people see their line managers exemplifying why it’s really important to do this a certain way. So, a lot of top-down leadership is what we need to keep this momentum going.”