Turning 50, Invest High School Program Eyes Apprenticeships for Independent Agencies

By | March 19, 2020

A new apprenticeship program aimed at attracting and developing talent in the independent agency system is being rolled out by an insurance education organization that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Invest, the insurance education program affiliated with the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, or the Big “I,” was inaugurated in Los Angeles in 1970, with a mission to educate high school students about insurance. Today, Invest has more than 31,000 students studying insurance through 897 programs in 47 states, according to Invest Executive Director Deborah Pickford.

The apprenticeship program, which recently was approved by the U.S. Department of Labor, is in its early stages, but its creation is in part propelled by the realization that the insurance industry over the next decade will need to fill more than 400,000 jobs, Pickford said.

“We’re kind of at the beginning of this, although there are corporate players doing apprenticeships right now — you have Zurich and AON out in the Chicago area. They work with Harold Washington Community College and Harper Community College. They are doing very successful apprenticeship programs,” Pickford said.

The Hartford also has an apprenticeship program, which it introduced as a pilot in Hartford, Conn., in 2015. The insurer’s apprentice program now in Connecticut, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Minnesota, according to a company spokesperson.

In working with and talking to these insurance apprenticeship pioneers, Pickford came to the conclusion that such a program “would be perfect for the agency force. It would be a win-win, and I think, a way to attract more people to come into these agencies.”

Deborah Pickford

Pickford said the organization currently is working with Maryland on an apprenticeship program under the Invest banner. However, she pointed out that the Big “I” state association in Kentucky already has an apprenticeship program in place that has been approved by the Kentucky Department of Labor.

“That was not an Invest program, but they’re using 45 hours of the Invest curriculum now. And they’ve been doing it I think for about eight months. So, they were really first, and I like to give them credit because they developed a lot of tools and materials that helped aid us in developing our program,” she said.

The Invest team is laying the groundwork for a rollout of the apprenticeship program in Maryland with the assistance of the Maryland Insurance Administration and Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer. Pickford said Redmer “is keenly interested in educating and training people in the Maryland area for jobs in the insurance industry, whether they come out of high school, community college or college.”

She said Redmer “has hired a part time person, a former school administrator, to work with us on the program. So, we have been going school by school, county by county and talking about the Invest program.” They’ve also been joined in the effort by representatives from the University of Baltimore, which launched its first ever Risk Management Program last fall.

“So, Maryland’s showing a lot of promise, but behind Maryland we’ve got a lot of other very interested states including, New York is keenly interested, Texas is interested. So, a lot of work in going into the state level and starting to implement this apprenticeship program for the independent agency system,” Pickford said.

Education Evolution

Lindsey Shank, operations manager for Hull & Co. in St. Petersburg, Fla., has come full circle with Invest. Introduced to the world of insurance in high school through the Invest program, she started working part time at an agency in St. Petersburg just after high school and stayed on through her four years in at the University of St. Petersburg. After graduation, she went full time at the agency and was with the firm for just over 20 years, moving to the wholesale side of the business when she joined Hull & Co. in January. Now, Shank serves as the Invest chair for the Big “I.”

When she was enrolled in the Invest program in high school it mostly focused on personal lines, particularly auto insurance, and it still retains that emphasis. But, Shank said, some high schools now are introducing commercial insurance to students, as well as life and health. And the curriculum has expanded to include exposure to the industry not only from the consumer perspective but from a business perspective, as well.

Lindsey Shank

“The second thing that I think has expanded, and this is great because I think it’s one of the highlights of the Invest program and the benefit for the students and the school and the insurance community, is just that increase in partnership with the high schools and with the local insurance community,” Shank said. There’s an abundance of volunteers open to speaking to students, sharing their workdays with them and serving as a resource for teachers, she said. It’s “really inspiring to see. You have professionals who are able to take a little bit of time away from their day and go out to the high school and serve as a guest speaker, or open the doors to their agency or company and have the students come out on a field trip.”

Another thing that has changed since she was a student in the Invest program is that there’s now more of a focus on insurance as a career path. “I like to tell the students that I see in our local high school, ‘No matter what your strengths and passion is, there is probably a role for you somewhere in the insurance industry. It might not be right here in your backyard, but at an agency or company, the number of jobs and the type of jobs are boundless,'” Shank said.

A lot of young people just aren’t aware of the job possibilities within the insurance industry, so enabling students to explore career opportunities has been a great addition to the program, she added.

The development of online learning is another significant change that has had a big impact on the Invest program, according to Pickford. All of the Invest educational resources are now online and the program is working on creating an online mobile app.

“What is happening in the learning arena, and we all know this, but particularly with the next generation of learners, they are looking for more interactive content. So, we’re moving to try to provide more interactive contents, shorter little vignettes of learning rather than the longer kind of textbooks, things where people can interact with the content, gaming. And we’re not there yet, but we’re looking at all this. … People don’t read big blocks of text anymore so shorter text, more video, more interactivity and then having that content on something that can be delivered 24-7,” Pickford added.

Agency Involvement

The participation of agencies as employers and mentors is essential to the successful implementation of the apprenticeship program, Pickford said. “We have to have the employers. … We have to have the agents.”

Invest is looking for agencies that have established training and education channels, and are interested in bringing in a diversity of talent to participate in the apprenticeship program. Potential agencies are those that are able to give students time to study and have a dedicated person or persons within that agency to mentor them.

“I strongly believe that those agencies [that] have stepped up to the plate and are willing to start working with us with the apprenticeship program, I think they’ll have higher retention because I think it’s a win-win for both the apprentice and the agent,” Pickford said.

The Invest apprenticeship program won’t be the right fit for every agency, Shank acknowledged. But it offers a “pathway for an agency, so they don’t have to do all the heavy lifting on their own. Because I know that especially with smaller to medium size agencies, just figuring out, ‘Well, what do I do when I bring a new person on, whether it’s part time or an intern or full time? How do we train them? How do we get them onboarded in a timely and proper fashion?'”

The resources available through the Invest apprenticeship program and the framework that has been built around it will be a great significant for those agents, she said.

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