Meredith Messenger, VP of operations at Peter M. Bakker Agency, tells IBA about pioneering an agency apprenticeship program that’s the first of its kind in Connecticut
IBA: Tell us about Peter M. Bakker Agency’s new apprenticeship program.
Meredith Messenger: The Peter M. Bakker Agency was recently awarded the first insurance agency apprenticeship by the Connecticut Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship Training. We’re working with the state and with Goodwin College, a private college in East Hartford, Connecticut, to identify where there are opportunities to partner and to really expose students to what the independent agency channel has to offer.
This is something I’ve been passionate about for a very long time. It’s my aim to connect groups of people who want and deserve meaningful employment with groups of insurance agents who desperately need talent coming into the industry.
IBA: What makes your apprenticeship program so unique?
MM: The apprenticeship program is unique in that it’s the first program I know of in Connecticut that’s geared more toward feeding talent into small-business independent agencies, rather than into the carrier side or the more corporate side of the business. In that respect, the program at Goodwin College is unique and special, and it can make a really big difference to the local community and to this part of our industry.
IBA: Why do you think young people don’t want to join the independent agency channel?
MM: I think there’s a perception issue. I think the independent agency channel, in general, offers some really great opportunities for millennials. Millennials are entrepreneurial, they’re looking to make a difference in their communities, and they want to make sure their voices are heard – and small business is great for all of those things.
That being said, I think there are a lot of small and mid-size insurance agencies that haven’t adapted to the new world of work yet and don’t really understand what the next generation of the workforce is looking for. Independent agents and brokers have to really work on building a culture and an environment that’s conducive to the new working requirements. The businesses that can build that culture are going to be very successful, because the next generation is very loyal, and they’re very committed to causes that they’re invested in. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for future generations in the independent agency channel.
IBA: Why is it important for states to support agency apprenticeship programs like this?
MM: I think it’s one of the only ways a program like this will really take off. The role the states need to play is dual. They have to help build the programs and place the students, but they also have to spend time with the agency principals and business owners to help them support and retain the talent they source through the programs.
Not many small-business owners and agency principals have a business background. Many grew up as producers and got into leadership through being excellent salespeople.
They don’t necessarily have the perspective needed to build a program that retains talent like this – and it’s a little bit scary to them because they’re investing money in the program, and if that apprentice were to leave, they’re going to feel like they lost that money. So I think the state needs to support the implementation of the program once the apprentice is placed.
IBA: Peter M. Bakker Agency is a member of Renaissance Alliance Insurance Services. How will this program impact that network?
MM: This apprenticeship program is for the Peter M. Bakker Agency, but it’s also for the wider Renaissance Alliance membership. Our goal is to get enough people through the program who will gain solid insurance agency experience so we can start to feed talent into the Renaissance Alliance member agencies.
We’re very excited and very proud of this apprenticeship program. I think if we can continue to improve it, the program can have a big impact on Renaissance Alliance and the value the network offers.
It’s even more exciting to look at it from a big-picture perspective in terms of what this program can bring to the wider community and the impact it can have on society and the local economy.