INSETA internship programmes responds to insurance sector employment needs

11 July 2011 INSETA

In 2009 an article posted in The Insurance Junction stated that “statistics show that the South African insurance industry rates third in the overall number of industries in terms of skills shortage.” The Sector Skills Plan, released in the same year, revealed that despite higher graduation rates in recent years, the quality and appropriate qualifications of graduates entering the industry remains poor.

The general consensus is that often graduates do not perform to expectation, or are unable to meet skill requirements.

In response to this lack of skilled professionals in the sector, INSETA has taken a proactive step by developing a far-reaching internship programme aimed at supporting work-based experience and helping the sector to “grow its own skills”.

INSETA provides grants to businesses to enable unemployed graduates to gain one year’s workplace experience, or an opportunity to practice the work skills that they have studied and will practice in the future, in their chosen occupations.

These are structured work-based programmes designed by employers in conjunction with INSETA, aimed at giving unemployed graduates and those who completed National Diplomas, work experience and industry specific skill in companies in the insurance sector.

“Graduates leave tertiary institutions with technical training but no experience, and therefore struggle to find employment. These internships help them gain experience and a real opportunity for employment. Further to this, the insurance industry gains the skilled professionals that, especially as it becomes more formalised, it is in such desperate need of,” said Sharon Snell, COO of INSETA.

Insurance brokers and financial service providers Indwe Risk is one of the companies that has run the internship programme, and says that it has proven immensely successful in the five years that it has been part of it. “It is one of our most successful developmental programmes and gives us the opportunity to grow our own talent. To date we have only lost two graduates due to resignations and have managed to employ 95% of the graduates,” said Vivienne Delaney, senior manager of Internships/Training and Development at Indwe Risk.

While employment following completion of the internship is not an obligation for either the graduate or the company involved, Snell says that more often than not it is the case. “This year, 17 of the 19 original interns in Indwe’s programme have gone on to employment within the organisation; the remaining two were head-hunted earlier in the programme,” she said.

One of the key factors in the success of the programme is the pre-selection scanning of graduates that ensures only the right people are chosen. All participants must sit an aptitude test to confirm compatibility with the insurance industry. This maximises the efficiency of the programmes, ensuring that the experience and training gained during the internship year is directed at graduates who are more likely to stay within the insurance industry. Participating companies say that this helps enormously in that the graduates are not poached as soon as they gain some experience, thereby leaving the insurance sector without a future generation of skills to replenish it.

“Even if they don’t end up at the same company they interned with, the industry-specific skills training means that the insurance sector gains a solid foundation of skilled, experienced professionals. We aren’t looking for ‘fly-by-nights’, the completion of the internship is the start of the journey with us in the industry, and benefits us all. We give them an opportunity to accelerate their career, and at the same time provide the country with a desperately needed, skilled workforce,” said Snell.

Delaney said that the internship process can be a daunting one, but the rewards for those patient and ambitious enough to see it through are immense, “In the last couple of years we’ve noticed that the interns have realised they need to learn to crawl before they walk. As an added incentive to stay, after the first year with us, Indwe offers these employees study loans in order to sit the FAIS compliance exams. We also run mentorships for the interns, as we’ve realised the positive effect this has - we’re growing new talent, and laying the foundation for amazing careers in financial services.”

The success of the programme also leads by example says Delaney. “It’s shown other companies that developing and maintaining a successful learnership and internship programme is a highly rewarding task, with long-term benefits. Furthermore the quota requirement of the programme provides the companies taking part with increased BEE status, helping to encourage diversity within the industry.”

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