Higher Education

OPINION: Educating adult learners for adversity with apprenticeships in insurance

Three lessons from a Swiss insurance firm

Kathleen Savio

Kathleen Savio

Recently, 18 adults, including a former car salesman and a stay-at-home dad, took a chance on an industry not widely recognized for the role it plays in helping people and businesses get back up and running when faced with adversity: insurance.

These adults were the first graduates of our certified apprenticeship program for insurance professionals in the United States. As we explore the future of the apprenticeship project, we offer a look at some of the thinking behind our program. We hope this helps other employers to adopt similar models.

Related: U.S. quietly works to expand apprenticeships to fill white-collar jobs

All of our apprentices received the Associate of Applied Science degree in business from William Rainey Harper College and were honored by the U.S. Labor Department. During their apprenticeships, they paid no tuition and took home a salary.

The program officially began under the Obama administration during a meeting in the White House, at which I sat next to U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Labor Secretary Tom Perez. Representing Zurich Insurance Group, I was one of seven business leaders of Swiss-owned companies present to meet with U.S. cabinet members and the Swiss vice president and federal councillor.

Our goal was to help the U.S. administration identify how we could work together to improve skills-development programs.

This meeting crystalized the goals toward which Zurich was already working. Our idea evolved into something concrete, something that will develop core business competencies for employees while inspiring them to take on new challenges. At that meeting, I signed our commitment to start our apprenticeship program. The initiative will train 100 apprentices by 2020.

Experience shows us that apprenticeship programs are a very powerful way to nurture future leaders.

Related: Apprenticeships could provide a path to the  middle class for millions of workers, new study says

As with reaching any important goal, participants learned quite a few things along the way. Three pivotal lessons helped shape the journey to our first graduation.

1. Collaboration: Harper College and the Labor Department partnered flexibly and collaboratively to ensure the program was a success, and made modifications along the way to reflect learning developments.

2. Scale: Apprenticeship programs are most effective when competitors work together – sharing a common vision – to develop the future workforce for their industry. Zurich was joined by Aon and The Hartford, all of which were named U.S. Department of Labor apprentice leaders.* We are also active in the Chicago area and financial-services sector in promoting the value of apprentices, as well as sharing our model for more efficient launches with others.

3. Apprenticeships: We have attracted a diverse pool of talent. These employees wouldn’t have traditionally fit into our organization based on structural factors that are being removed by the introduction of professional apprenticeships, including the need for a bachelor’s degree.

My hope is that these factors will ignite the curiosity to spark more apprenticeship opportunities.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for our newsletter.

Kathleen Savio is CEO-designate of Zurich North America.

This story has been corrected to say that the U.S. Department of Labor named Zurich, Aon, and The Hartford apprentice leaders.

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Kathleen Savio

Kathleen Savio is CEO-designate for Zurich North America. See Archive

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