Simon Lancaster owner of SJL Insurance and Sarah Harker, formerly an apprentice (Image: Handout)
SJL Insurance is primarily a property specialist supplying cover including cyber for firms worldwide from security operators to hotels and oil rigs.
Rare for the insurance industry in that it is owned by just one individual and their enterprise, over the last 15 years it has welcomed 26 apprentices into the fold.
Paid placements with business administration training programmes are then followed by full-time positions.
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With a £24 million turnover target this year and 20 per cent annual growth, the young people’s contribution to SJL is vital to its success, explains Worcester-based owner Lancaster.
“White collar apprenticeships like these are still unusual, but they can open the way for those not able to study immediately for a full-blown professional qualification and they bring more talent into the sector.
“I was an apprentice with a broker and it gave me the experience I needed so when I was made redundant I was aware of the opportunities and started my own business. With £500 from Worcester Chamber of Commerce I did and have never looked back.”
While university works for many it is not for everyone, he and Sarah Harker, 21, point out. She is a former SJL apprentice and now an accounts management staffer there.
Simon Lancaster owner of SJL Insurance (Image: Handout)
“I didn’t want a debt after three more years of study,” she says. “I wanted to get experience of the world of work, be on the ladder. I saw that different route during my A-levels when I went to a employers’ recruitment open day at college. My mum was very supportive, my dad was more cautious at first as it was less conventional, but they are both really pleased for me now.”
After her 15-month course with online training and on-site assessments she has a business administration NVQ. “I learned about customer service, handling accounts, record taking from meetings, all the key practicalities. I have savings, been promoted, am more confident and can study for more professional qualifications if I choose,” she adds.
We are only as good as the people we recruit,
Becoming a Lloyd’s of London broker in 2017 and the opening of a office in the city were turning points for SJL, expanding international trade opportunities. Armed with binding permissions too delegated by insurers, it now has more control over pricing, covers and claims. “So a quicker, slicker service all round,” says Lancaster whose company has also been awarded Investors in People status for its people management.
Simon and Sarah at work (Image: Handout)
Keen to raise awareness of apprenticeships as a viable career option in financial services he is now lobbying for the introduction of a sector specific qualification.
Technology is playing a greater role in risk analysis and how insurance is bought, but selling it to clients requires people and relationships.
“We must never forget,” says Lancaster, “we are only as good as who we recruit.”
For more details on National Apprenticeship Week (until February 9) events and follow-ups visit https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/national-apprenticeship-week-2020