Apprenticeship programs provide major advantages for workers and employers at businesses around the world. Experience has shown us they are a very powerful way of developing employees with core business competencies, while inspiring them to take on new challenges and nurturing future leaders.
Many people still associate these programs with industries like the skilled trades, but the fact is, employers in hundreds of other fields are discovering how apprenticeship programs can cultivate talent trained specifically for their needs − and the insurance industry is no exception. This year, at Zurich Insurance, we are excited to add ourselves to this growing and diverse list.
This February, we worked with William Rainey Harper College to officially launch the nation’s first apprenticeship program in the insurance industry. This inaugural class is now underway and the 24 talented and motivated students are gaining key vocational and professional skills at our North American headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois, all while earning a salary AND attending tuition free classes at Harper College to work toward an associate of applied science degree in business.
President of Harper College Dr. Ken Ender, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu, U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein Suzi LeVine, and Ambassador of Switzerland to the U.S. Martin Dahinden are all leaders championing the apprenticeship program movement with us. They've been critical in helping us launch our U.S. program in just one year.
The program is focused on Zurich’s claims and underwriting functions, as they are core to our business. The curriculum has been designed to allow the apprentices to maximize their learning by making direct linkages between their course work at Harper and their on-the-job experience at Zurich. As an example, the finance course is timed to coincide during the apprentices’ on-the-job finance rotation at Zurich.
While novel in this country, our program is based on a similar program that has been successful for many years at our Switzerland headquarters. In Switzerland, we employ more than 200 people in the three-year program that provides an insurance-focused training certificate to those that complete the program. Eighty percent of graduates from the most recent program found employment with Zurich. Our U.S. business now joins Zurich Insurance in Austria, Germany, Ireland, Italy, U.K., and Switzerland, which all have apprenticeship programs.
Zurich is a top five commercial property and casualty insurer in the U.S, which is the largest and most competitive insurance marketplace in the world. We attributed much of that success to our culture of continuous improvement and the talented and dedicated people we hire. People like Justin Williams, who we are training right now through the apprenticeship program. Growing up, he always enjoyed meeting new people and had a knack for connecting with them. His strength with interpersonal communication led him to work in customer service for a shipping company. While he enjoyed talking to the people he helped, he aspired for more. He was attracted to our program because he saw it as an opportunity to grow.
Over the next two years, Justin and the other students in our inaugural class will earn and learn, and develop into employees who have the technical, analytical, and interpersonal skills to understand and react to the risks presented by our fast-changing economy. They will become the insurance professionals of tomorrow.
We know that investing in apprentices is an investment in our company, our industry and the U.S. workforce. That is why Zurich is committed to training at least 100 apprentices through our new program by 2020.
And as an ApprenticeshipUSA LEADER, we also are committed to encouraging other employers to adopt a similar model. In March, we’ll be working with insurance brokerage firm Aon and the Labor Department to bring together Chicago’s top leaders in insurance and financial services to discuss ways to expand apprenticeship opportunities for area students.
We know apprenticeships work in the insurance industry and we want to spread the word.
Mike Foley is the CEO of North America Commercial and regional chairman of North America for Zurich Insurance Group.