Recruitment Trends - On the way up

In an effort to develop management skills, many insurers are looking to improve their graduate recruitment schemes and business leadership training. Simon Ashmore examines how some of the programmes work and what they offer to graduates

Non-technical management training is a growing need for all insurers and brokers, and the days of picking it up as you go along - along with boasting about attendance solely at the university of life - are long gone.

A common industry criticism, both internal and external, is about the quality of management. Apart from the odd supervisory course, most managers were thrown in the deep end and left to their own devices - and it showed.

In recent years there has been a move away from simplistic technical and management training towards business leadership training. At the same time, training for top managers has become more complex and varied, and most people working in insurance are assumed to have technical qualifications and to be continually updating this knowledge.

Companies have now taken this to heart and are looking to offer relevant training to managers and potential managers. The logic is simple: management is now a profession.

While demand for graduates is increasing, only a few big insurers and brokers have a formal graduate recruitment programme. Compared to the number of people joining the industry, the total is tiny.

Company figures

Some take around 20 a year, others half that number. Allianz Cornhill recruit 10 a year; Axa, eight; Norwich Union, 20; Aon, 21; and Zurich, 20. Others, including RSA, Markel, JLT, Benfield and Marsh, make the annual input around 200 individuals, out of a much larger number. For 21 vacancies this year, for example, Aon had 2500 applications.

However, as recent mergers have settled down, graduate recruitment programmes, which were often on hold, have been restored and greatly improved. Historically, the big insurers took on graduates but, through frustration at lack of progress, lost most of them to other professions or to smaller companies.

For example, Commercial Union used to be a superb source of young professionally qualified graduates for its competitors. Most have revived their programme, others such as Markel have brought one in, and niche cash plan provider HSA is considering launching one.

Why do companies want a formal graduate entry? The answer is that in an increasingly complex business, they want to develop future leaders with an insurance background. Although companies can appoint some managers without the background, to be in charge of insurance broking or underwriting at a senior level with no insurance experience is just asking for trouble.

Also, graduate programmes have moved from a technical to a leadership basis and fit in better with a genuine need and desire for life-long learning and development. As early retirement recedes into history and the government gently persuades us that it will be a good thing to work to 70 or older, the shelf life of an insurance manager increases considerably.

Developing talent

Judith Bufton, head of learning and development at Allianz Cornhill, says; "We are committed to recruiting and developing talented people to deliver the outstanding technical, commercial and leadership skills needed to drive our business forward. Our graduate programmes are a key part of our strategy and we recruit annually to the Corporate Management Trainee Scheme to create our senior managers of the future."

Smaller companies often recruit at graduate level too. Hiscox is a good example, as HR director Sue Smith explains. "We are too small to run a formal graduate recruitment programme. Most people come to us with 12 to 18 months work experience, rarely straight from university. Underwriters need to be technical and professional but they need other softer skills such as personal presence in meetings and presentations."

Marion Flower, HR manager for MMA Insurance, adds: "As a medium-sized company, MMA has the advantage of being able to concentrate on the development needs of the individual. The size of the company makes it impractical for us to run a full-blown graduate training scheme, but graduates with some years of relevant experience find MMA an attractive place to progress their careers as their contribution to the company's success can be visible and rewarding."

At smaller insurers and brokers, graduates have more opportunity to shine and progress. The larger companies are countering this by moving away from technical-based standard programmes to more flexible ones focused on leadership training. It is all still in a state of flux as new methods and ideas are introduced.

Anupa Pandya, graduate recruitment co-ordinator at Aon, says: "We have two programmes: an actuarial consulting programme and an insurance programme. In the actuarial programme, graduates go straight into teams and permanent roles. The insurance programme is 18 months long, in which time they do four assignments in various parts of the business. Both have development programmes in which graduates gain technical expertise as well as personal skills. We are looking at changing the programme but have not done so yet."

Ms Bufton adds: "Allianz Cornhill's scheme is a five-year career management programme involving two initial six-month induction placements in different parts of the company to gain a broad understanding of the business. These are followed by two longer one- to two-year technical and commercial placements.

During this time we expect the graduates to gain their ACII professional qualifications, develop a wide range of contacts and take advantage of the personal, technical and management development opportunities the company provides. All the graduates are provided with a mentor."

Individual focus

Zurich's programme places people into a job from day one and each person specialises in claims, underwriting or sales. This is supported with bespoke development in leadership, technical and business skills. The training was changed last year to give each graduate a more individual programme.

Graduate programmes generally have evolved away from industry-specific to business leader training, and insurance is simply following this trend.

Insurance recruits a large number of graduates on informal programmes and also takes on people straight from school. Some also join from other careers or from the Forces. The 'them and us' situation with graduate recruits is historic, as companies move from a handful of rigid programmes to an increasing maze of personal development plans and courses. Although insurance is far from perfect on diversity, there are plenty of opportunities for individuals to progress.

Not that long ago, once you reached a certain level, there was a feeling there was little to be gained from proper management training, which had a knock-on effect on business performance.

As recent cases against banks have shown, the fallout from failing to understand how a corporate culture can fall foul of employment law is huge. Remember when we were told that computers would improve our lives, and after a few hours work a week we could enjoy life? Managers now have to contend with having fewer people to do more work, deal with a never-ending flow of information by e-mail, the web, mobile phones and all the other life-improving gadgets. Most managers of 20 years ago would have a breakdown within a month if expected to do what their successors do.

Coping with daily life, as well as using their brains to ensure that both they and the company are planning ahead, is a task managers need help with. So business leadership training has developed for even the highest echelons.

Ms Bufton explains: "We offer structured business leadership development programmes for individuals who are identified as having high potential at key career stages. These programmes are designed and delivered in partnership with external business school partners, involve a series of modules on key business issues and are supported by mentoring, action learning and involvement in business projects. It mixes formal training with informal ideas, for example the leader can choose an external course or take his team on a training event. This is in addition to the management training and ongoing personal development programmes that all managers have."

Zurich offers a range of training for business leaders, with a plan based on the skills required and individual business area. HSA has recently taken 60 senior managers through an internal mini-MBA leadership programme of external residential courses. Modules included personal awareness, leadership and team building, finance, marketing brand and competition, strategy and commercial astuteness.

Flexibility

Hiscox has a flexible approach to management training, as Ms Smith explains.

"After basics for all, the trick with skills is developing what the manager needs in the modern world. This may include recruitment, development, appraisal and employment law. Structured training has a place, but we a find that more can be done with less formal and shorter lunchtime or other interactive sessions. What has to be recognised is that individuals differ in how they learn best. Some can sit watching screens, others will only learn if they are hands-on and interactive."

She says there is an increasing need in insurance to link skills training with active learning, such as a course where feedback continues and develops at a later follow-up session. "Senior managers and executives need training too. There is a need to consider the impact on business. Taking a key manager off for a month-long course, for example, has serious business and personal consequences. We recently ran a three-day leadership event that had bits that worked well and can be used elsewhere, and bits that did not. The key to success is not just what you do and how you do it but whether the company is genuine about wanting to develop people, even if temporarily inconvenient for a department. Our senior managers tend to be open-minded. So as they go on courses, they in turn can give strong support to others when they need to learn."

- The Institute of Financial Services (ifs) is one of the leading bodies for the provision of education and life-long career support services to the financial services industry. The institute's vision is to be recognised as a world-class school of finance, known for its quality and innovative approach as the provider of choice for financial learning.

Through this, the institute will contribute to the development of both a well-educated and skilled financial services industry, able to meet the needs of the public; and a more financially aware and literate consumer base able to take control of their own financial futures.

The institute's qualifications range from the Certificate of Regulated General Insurance, the competency qualification for those working in general insurance; through to the BSc (Hons) in financial services and associateship, delivered in partnership with University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. Additionally, the institute delivers programmes specifically tailored to the needs of risk and insurance professionals at advanced diploma and degree level.

For further information, please contact customer and student services on 01227 818 609 or e-mail [email protected] You can also visit the website at www.ifslearning.com.

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