What's the key to crafting a successful talent development initiative?

Former Aviva apprentice shares his insights

What's the key to crafting a successful talent development initiative?

Insurance News

By Mia Wallace

Now a decade into his insurance career, Connor Henderson (pictured) has seen first-hand how the success of any talent development initiative hinges on the interplay of opportunity and ambition.

It was after realising that university wasn’t for him that he found an underwriting apprenticeship with Aviva online, and recognised the opportunity for what it was – the chance to gain valuable work experience without sacrificing his desire for professional development. From there, he said, his career went from strength to strength, and he stepped into his current role as branch manager for Aviva in London in December 2022.

How Aviva’s talent attraction and retention programmes have evolved

Having joined in the early days of Aviva’s apprenticeship program, Henderson noted that he has seen how it has evolved and built out over the years. What has never changed, he said, is the emphasis on creating a support network among the apprentices and graduates. Aviva’s Commercial Lines Academy represents a natural extension of this commitment, and the blend of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills he received there have formed the foundation of his ongoing professional trajectory.  

“It’s about being given opportunities but also about being able to seize them,” he said. “We’re in a people business where building your network is so important. An initiative like the Academy means you end up speaking to people from other parts of the business who you otherwise might never have met, which is just priceless. Some people have been with Aviva for decades while others have just joined us, so you get this really nice balance.”

Looking across the market, Henderson said there are not many examples of businesses able to demonstrate bringing together a wealth of people with such different backgrounds and experiences in one room. What it does, he said, is open up more doors because when you speak to new people, you learn something different every day, and all that knowledge becomes applicable as you progress in your career.

Harnessing opportunities to have a varied and fulfilling insurance career

Using his career as an example, he highlighted that early on, his ambition was to pursue a technical underwriting route and the Academy supported the development of the skills necessary to do so through licensing, workshops, EML (estimated maximum loss) training, online training materials and the opportunity to shadow underwriters from multiple disciplines. Later on, he said, as his career changed direction, the Academy also nurtured his professional development from a coaching and leadership perspective.

“That includes session on trading with confidence, on how to have difficult conversations both internally and externally, and I was taught how to deal with difficult situations,” he said. “I did a lot of really thought-provoking sessions on how to coach and how to mentor, and the difference between those things. And some of those active role-playing type sessions can be quite daunting but when you’ve done it, you realise you’ve developed skills that you can put into practice and use day-to-day.”

The power of strength profiling

Henderson pinpointed the strength profiling aspect of the Academy as especially powerful. What’s fascinating to see, he said, is how your strength profile evolves as you undergo training and development designed to bolster your strengths and offset your weaknesses. As the leader of a team, it has been a powerful tool in his toolkit as he looks to create an aligned and inclusive team – in recognition that everybody brings different strengths to the table.

From Henderson’s perspective, the alignment of technical and professional development skills championed by the Academy is critical because it enables people to understand what they’re capable of. From his own friends, he said, he’s seen so many examples of people feeling directionless in their early careers because they haven’t been exposed to the variety of experiences it requires to understand the path you want to take.

“Whereas, I’ve been chucked into the deep end of the market lots of times but also had the support of the business behind me, and that’s where I’ve learned the most,” he said. “I’ve had leaders willing to give me that level of exposure so I can learn through it and I think that without that, you don’t learn as much and you don’t grow as much.”

Changing attitudes to talent development across the insurance industry

It has been interesting to see how the attitude to attracting and retaining talent has changed over time, he said, and how this reflects broader changing attitudes across the insurance industry. He noted that as a gay man working in the insurance market, he has been gratified by the level of professional support he has received while working at Aviva – and he’s passionate about continuing to support that going forward.

“Having been an apprentice with Aviva and seeing how the Academy has grown over the years, I’ve loved seeing people develop and helping to support that development,” he said. “I know from my own experience that if you really want to progress, you can. You’ve just got to use your whole network, use all the tools available to you that your company is offering. There are certain people I coach and develop now and I know I’m helping set up the path to them becoming my boss in the future.

“We’re so lucky to have these support structures around us, and we need to really utilise them because there’s so much they can offer… I’ve seen people progress through the Academy and when they come out the other end, they’re quite different underwriters, from a technical point of view in terms of skills and training, but also in how they’ve developed their personal strengths. So, my advice to anybody considering getting involved is to use the Academy in any way you can – just do it.”

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