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Zurich Apprenticeship Week Summit lights path for high school students

November 15, 2019

More than 110 high school students learn of opportunities to fast-track a career without student loan debt at Zurich National Apprenticeship Week Summit.

Apprenticeship Week Colton and Amaiya Zurich Apprentice Alumni Adviser Colton Wright and Apprentice Amaiya Lockwood speak with high school students at the Zurich National Apprenticeship Week Summit.

Noah Capistran was heading into his sophomore year at a four-year state university when he learned of the Zurich Apprenticeship Program from a family friend.

“Hearing about this program and the free schooling — knowing the cost of a four-year university — was really appealing,” he told more than 110 high school students gathered for the Zurich National Apprenticeship Week Summit. “Walking out of college debt-free means a lot more than you guys might think.”

It meant enough to change his trajectory. “I decided to do this instead,” he said.  

Capistran is one of 85 apprentices hired by Zurich since 2016, when the company’s insurance apprenticeship program became the first to be certified by the U.S. Department of Labor. Zurich’s National Apprenticeship Week Summit, at its landmark LEED Platinum®-certified headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois, introduced students from Elgin High School, North Lawndale College Prep High School, Lincoln Park High School and others to opportunities to launch a professional career in commercial insurance while attending college, tuition-free.

Zurich apprentices earn a salary and benefits, including tuition coverage, for working at Zurich three days a week while taking classes two days a week to earn their Associate in Applied Science degree in business administration from Harper College. When they graduate from the two-year program, they are promoted one job level within areas that include underwriting, claims, finance, legal, human resources and cyber security. Provided they stay with Zurich 18 months after graduation, no tuition repayment is required.

Noelia Salgado: “I’m beyond grateful”

Noelia Salgado was in Zurich’s first apprentice cohort and just earned another promotion; she is now an International Service Specialist as well as an Apprentice Alumni Adviser.

“Before the apprentice program, I worked full time and went to school at night and on weekends,” Salgado said. “The program allowed me to spend more time with my son while giving me the foundation to build my career. It also gave me the opportunity to participate in a project where I earned an Impact Award. I’m beyond grateful.”

The Zurich summit was part of the U.S. Department of Labor’s fifth annual National Apprenticeship Week Nov. 11-15. Earlier in the week, a Zurich team including apprentices traveled to Springfield for an apprenticeship event with Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton.

Apprenticeships are an earn-while-you-learn opportunity that’s worthy of attention, said Laura Rock, Chief Human Resources Officer for Zurich North America, who kicked off the Zurich summit.

“The purpose of this is to give you an opportunity to think of a different way of entering careers,” Rock told the students, “and probably a different career path than many of you were considering.”

Rock said she didn’t envision an insurance career when she took her first insurance role. But 28 years later, she is proud to be in the industry.

“Insurance companies deliver on a promise to be there to help repair people’s lives in the event of adversity,” she said. “And that means something. Not only is insurance a noble profession, Zurich distinguishes itself even within that profession.”

The half-day of activities and networking featured many Zurich apprentices, some of whom only a year earlier were in the students’ shoes, wondering what they would do after high school.

Apprentice Sameen Pasha, who started in August after graduating from Hoffman Estates High school, told students the structure of the program helps apprentices manage the transition to a corporate setting and college.

“You have to believe in yourself,” Pasha said. “Everyone at work and at school really believes in you and wants you to succeed.” 

Applicants must also apply to Harper, satisfying the “college-ready” requirements in English and math. Apprentices start work and classes in August and continue through the following summer and beyond. They complete at least two rotations during the apprenticeship to experience different parts of Zurich’s businesses.

Support includes free tutoring

The program is rigorous but offers support and balance, apprentices said.

“We have an hour within our workday for study, which really helps you stay caught up, and Harper gives free tutoring,” said Amaiya Lockwood, a Conant High School graduate who started the Zurich apprenticeship in 2018. “We also have something called PTO — paid time off.”

A key advantage of the program is diversity, said Dane Lyons, a 2018 apprentice graduate who is now a Zurich underwriting services specialist and an Apprentice Alumni Adviser. He was in the Navy previously and joked he is “a little bit older” than some apprentices.

“The program has people coming out of high school, people who are transitioning military, people changing careers in different parts of their life. I share my experiences with the younger folks, and the younger folks share their experiences with me,” he said. “That makes succeeding a lot easier.”

Apprenticeship programs have been popular for years in construction, and many people assume they are only for the trades. But they are expanding as more businesses understand the benefits of blending focused education and training with on-the-job learning.

Across the U.S., the number of new apprentices rose from 191,563 in 2017 to 238,549 in 2018, according to the Labor Department, representing nearly 25% growth. In 2018, there were more than 585,000 apprentices working in more than 23,400 registered apprenticeship programs; 3,229 of those programs were added in 2018.

Students who attended the summit toured Zurich’s headquarters and met representatives of the company’s nine Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), including ZAAA: Zurich African Ancestry Alliance and Luz: Latinos Unidos for Zurich. They also got tips on interview preparation, personal branding and how to navigate their first corporate role. 

Avoiding burdensome student debt

Paula Waterman, a career adviser at Hoffman Estates High School, said Zurich’s apprenticeship program opens students’ eyes to an option besides four-year college, the military or a job that isn’t likely to offer full benefits.

“This is a fantastic option where you’re earning a paycheck, getting benefits and getting educated and trained,” Waterman said — all without student loans.

“A lot of students don’t realize when you sign those loan papers you have to start paying that back six months after you graduate, and you may have the equivalent of a car loan payment or a home loan payment, without the car or home that goes with it.”

By the end of the summit, Cyan Mitchell, a senior at Rolling Meadows High School, had made up her mind about the Zurich apprenticeship.

“I definitely plan on applying,” she said. “I already planned on applying, but hearing everyone gave me the extra push.”

Zurich, a founding member of the Chicago Apprentice Network, is on track to meet its goal of hiring 100 apprentices by 2020. The next application period for Zurich apprenticeships opens in March.

Watch a video featuring Noelia and Dane and learn more about the Zurich Apprenticeship Program here.