Despite having established its earn-and-learn apprenticeship program in the U.S. several year ago, insurer Zurich North America for the first time hosted an Apprenticeship Week Summit for high school students last fall.
With a goal of attracting 85 high school students, Zurich held the event in Chicago in November 2019 as part of National Apprenticeship Week. Far exceeding expectations, the summit ultimately brought in 115 high school students, accompanied by their high school counselors, career advisers and teachers, according to Al Crook, Zurich’s Head of Human Resources Business Partners and Executive Sponsor of Zurich’s Apprenticeship Program.
“In another first, we attracted students from high schools in the city of Chicago, in addition to the suburbs surrounding our headquarters in the northwest suburb of Schaumburg, which have produced some of our apprentices over the past three years,” Crook said in an email to Insurance Journal.
Crook said the apprenticeship summit was well received by attendees. He shared feedback from a High School District 211 career counselor who commented in an email after the event, saying: “Thank you, again, so much for inviting us to the Apprenticeship Summit today. I am overwhelmed by all of the positive comments that I have received from staff members, career advisors and students. Everyone had nothing but amazing things to say about every presentation, panel, breakout session and interaction with the Zurich employees. I have never seen so many young people genuinely excited about career opportunities in insurance in my life; it is all they could talk about on the ride back to school.”
Zurich partnered in 2015 with William Rainey Harper College in Palatine, Ill., to create its U.S. apprenticeship program, which is basically a work/study program where students work on a two-year business administration degree while being employed at the insurer. Upon graduation, participants receive a Certified Insurance Apprentice designation through the Department of Labor’s ApprenticeshipUSA initiative.
Zurich NA’s parent company, Zurich Insurance Group, has long had an apprenticeship program in Switzerland, where the group is headquartered. In 2014, 94% of those who completed the three-year program in that country stayed on as Zurich employees, according to the company.
The number of apprentices chosen to participate in Zurich’s U.S. program varies from year to year, depending on the needs of its business units, Crook said. Since its inception, Zurich has hired a total of 85 apprentices and has a goal of reaching 100 by the end of 2020. He said the company is on target to meet that goal.
High school students aren’t the only participants. Others include military personnel who are transitioning out of service, “people who want to move from job to career and people wanting to re-enter the work force after a hiatus. Applicants must apply and be accepted to Harper College, our educational partner in the program, which means satisfying the ‘college-ready requirements in English and math based on either college entrance exam scores or placement tests that Harper administers,” Crook said.
Candidates also are assessed for “competencies that include initiative and accountability, as well as collaboration and teamwork,” he added.
In an interview with Insurance Journal in early 2018, Crook described the program as an “earn-and-learn model. The apprentices are in the Zurich offices for three days of the week and they go to Harper College for two days of the week.”
Hired as full-time employees, they receive the same benefits as other Zurich employees. Through the program, apprentices are exposed to all the functions and units within the company,
The U.S. program’s retention rate now exceeds 83%, Crook said. “Upon completing the apprenticeship and earning their associate’s degree, apprentices are immediately promoted one level and remain in the area of their final rotation for one year. After that, they are eligible to apply for other posted positions within Zurich.”
Zurich employees who have completed a year of full-time employment are eligible for tuition reimbursement benefits if they wish to continue their education. For instance, “Noelia Salgado who was an apprentice in our first cohort in 2016, was promoted when she graduated from the program and has since been promoted again to international service specialist. She also chose to continue her college studies after earning her associate’s degree at Harper College. She is on track to receive her bachelor’s degree from Loyola University,” Crook said.
The company’s vision “was to create a program that was not only viable for Zurich’s commercial insurance business but was also flexible, scalable and sharable,” he said. “This would allow us to grow apprentices within our company, across our industry and within the regions that we work. Our success is not simply measured internally, but also includes the leverage we can gain by supporting the apprentice movement.”
Crook said the company evaluates the program on an ongoing basis, assessing both the carrier’s needs and workforce trends. The insurer also is looking at expanding the program beyond the Chicagoland area.
Zurich is open to sharing what it has learned with other organizations, as well. Companies like Aon and The Hartford have approached Zurich for advice on setting up apprenticeship programs and both have since established their own.
“We also are sharing our successes and learnings through the Chicago Apprentice Network, of which we were a founding member. Ours was the first insurance apprenticeship program to be certified by the Department of Labor, and we are open to sharing our experience to help other organizations create apprenticeships. We see apprenticeships as an innovative way to contribute to global sustainability,” Crook said.
“Apprenticeships are an innovative, win-win way to address labor shortages and barriers to professional advancement,” Crook said. “Zurich’s Apprenticeship Program proves that exciting careers are not only predicated on a four-year college degree.”
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