Invest is introducing apprenticeship and mentorship programs for the agency world. (Photo: Invest) Invest’s new strategic focus is accelerating workforce development. (Photo: Invest)

Of all the industries turned upside down in this pandemic, higher education is at the top of the list.

And I’m not talking about mass gatherings with dorm living, keg parties and football games.

Well before the coronavirus exploded, more parents and their children were questioning the value of the four-year college degree, especially when staggering student loans accompany new diplomas. More students are weighing the idea of graduating high school and moving directly into enjoyable, high-paying careers as mechanics, contractors and other trades. A two-year degree at a community college provides flexibility and a lower tuition cost. Students then can finish out at a four-year school. Or they can pivot right to the workforce and get a bachelor’s degree or more later on.

“Earn while you learn” isn’t just for mechanics, plumbers and HVAC contractors. But when you ask high school or college students about insurance industry options for internships and apprenticeships, they typically imagine a desk job at a carrier. Or selling life insurance.

Last mile

What about the local independent agency as a career choice? These firms are in every city, town and suburb across the nation. They’re stable, fulfilling places to rapidly gain business and customer experience skills.

The challenge: How do we as an industry connect that valuable new talent with local agencies? How to we complete “the last mile?” (Think of when the high-speed cable industry said they’re coming to you soon, but it was all about that agonizing last bit of line to hook up your house.)

No stranger to high school and community college insurance education, the Invest Program is completing the last mile. Invest is introducing apprenticeship and mentorship programs for the agency world. For those agencies willing to provide a bit more formal structure and a dedicated mentor to onboard and train, this is how to attract bright young workers who understand more about insurance than your average recruit.

Invest isn’t a start-up by any means. It’s been around for 50 years, and today counts more than 31,000 students studying insurance through 900 programs in 47 states. There are classes in high schools, community colleges and even four-year colleges.

A nonprofit organization affiliated with the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, Invest provides free resources for high school and college educators to implement classroom insurance education and career preparation. This is an interesting, hands-on program for the students. They learn to shop for insurance and how to run an agency. They get into various lines of insurance, risk management and customer service. They interact with insurance professionals; local carrier representatives and independent agents often volunteer as guest speakers to assist the full-time teachers.

Strategic focus

Understanding that it’s time to do more to connect students and agents, Invest’s new strategic focus is accelerating workforce development. This includes an apprenticeship program to train insurance workers that recently was approved by the U.S. Department of Labor. Invest wants to attract more people — including military veterans — to an industry where 400,000 jobs will be open over the next 10 years. Boomers are retiring and technology advances are creating excellent opportunities for emerging insurance leaders.

“College isn’t for everyone” has never been truer.

No, I don’t want to discourage any high schooler from pursuing a bachelor’s degree, MBA or doctorate. At the same time, there are excellent alternatives in the insurance business for motivated high school seniors who — for a variety of reasons — can’t take on a four-year school right now.

In particular, the financial considerations can be stark. Where would you prefer to be at age 22:

  • Facing $120,000 in student loans and seeking a job in a struggling economy, or…
  • Having $30,000 in the bank; already learning practical work and life skills at a paying job at an agency; and perhaps continuing your education should you choose to, with tuition support from your employer?

Agency owners, if you want to up your talent onboarding and retention game, I encourage you to learn more about Invest.

 

Peter van Aartrijk ([email protected]), principal of insurance marketing firm Aartrijk and is a member of the Invest board of directors. The opinions expressed here are the author’s own. 

 

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