Karen Bennett, a principal in Mercers retirement business, and Laura Hamilton, an actuary in Aon Hewitts retirement business, discuss their experiences as pioneers of the actuarial technician apprenticeship standard
What is the new actuarial technician apprenticeship standard?
The UK government has recognised that apprenticeships are a key component in creating employment opportunities for individuals who do not attend university. The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) has therefore been looking to extend the use of apprenticeships from more traditional industries to a wider range of professional services, including law and finance. This initiative is called Trailblazers.
The IFoA had been exploring actuarial apprenticeship options with the Financial Skills Partnership (FSP), which put it in touch with BIS so that the actuarial industry could be a part of this revolutionary development. As a key element of the Trailblazer strategy is to be employer-led, the IFoA stepped back to allow employers to develop the new standards.
A range of employers in different actuarial fields have consequently been working together to introduce apprenticeships that are employer-led in their design, delivery and assessment. Apprentices will receive a valuable qualification and obtain the knowledge and skills required to lead successful careers in their chosen field.
How did you get involved in this work?
Owing to their success in developing young people via early careers programmes, both Aon and Mercer were made aware of the Trailblazer opportunity by the IFoA. Both companies already offer a range of apprenticeships in other technical specialisms and both aim to develop methods of attracting, engaging and retaining key talent. Alongside Aon and Mercer, the steering group of employers involved in the development of the standard included Barnett Waddington, Grant Thornton, Jardine Lloyd Thompson, RSA, PwC and KPMG.
What makes this standard different from actuarial school leaver programmes?
There is now an official standard, which sets out the skills, knowledge and behaviour that an apprentice will gain by completing the apprenticeship. There will also be a formal and independent means of assessment, allowing for greater confidence in the abilities of individuals after they have completed the apprenticeship.
We expect that the consistency that the standard provides in developing core actuarial skills should greatly improve opportunities for both employers and for apprentices when deciding on their career path. We hope to see the numbers of actuarial apprenticeships increase as a result of the new standard.
What exactly does the standard offer?
The actuarial technician standard is aimed at school leavers with good numerical skills and will typically take two to three years to complete. The apprentice will work as part of a team supporting qualified actuaries and consultants, using data and models to provide solutions for clients. As well as ensuring that individuals build up the required core actuarial technical know-how, the role will also develop key business skills and behaviours, including servicing clients and supporting the advice given by qualified actuaries, through a focus on 'on-the-job' training while the apprentices are studying for professional exams.
The standard is a level 4 apprenticeship and will provide student membership to the IFoA - either as a Student Actuarial Analyst on the Certified Actuarial Analyst qualification pathway or as a student on the Fellowship pathway. This will be for individual employers to determine.
What impact will the standard have on:
a) future students? and b) employers?
It is a win-win for both employers and apprentices. The apprenticeship now provides school leavers interested in a career in actuarial work with a genuinely viable alternative to university. An apprentice who joins at age 18, for example, may complete the apprenticeship within a couple of years. By the time they would have left university, they may be well along the path to qualifying as a Certified Actuarial Analyst or Fellow of the IFoA.
Completing the apprenticeship will also widen opportunities in other areas of the profession, as apprentices will have shown the ability to pass the required exams and to meet the work-based requirements of an analyst. Many young people are also now realising the benefits of being able to 'earn while you learn'.
Aside from government funding to assist with the training costs for apprentices, employers will also benefit from being able to draw from a much wider talent pool. Organisations will be able to build a strong talent pipeline for the industry, as well as creating a more diverse workforce by recruiting people from all backgrounds. Research has shown that clients are more likely to do business with firms who employ apprentices, as they recognise the positive impact a company is having by providing opportunities for young people.
How has the IFoA been involved?
The IFoA is the professional body representing the actuarial technician apprentice standard and, as such, it has been involved in discussions with the steering group of employers developing the standard and the assessment plan. It will also be involved in overseeing the assessment of apprentices to ensure a standard, consistent and robust approach. This involvement is essential in ensuring that those working with apprentices can be confident that there is no compromise on the levels of quality and professionalism upon which our clients and the industry depend.
How can I find out more?
The official apprenticeship standard for an actuarial technician has now been published here. Aon, Mercer and the IFoA are also happy to answer questions and respond to employers keen to set up their own apprenticeship programmes. Please join us in making this revolutionary step forward in providing opportunities to young people and in helping to increase the calibre and diversity of our future workforce.