Swiss-Inspired Apprentice Program at Zurich North America in New York City

In Switzerland, vocational education and training is one of the factors that contribute to the country’s economic stability and innovation capabilities. This well-established career pathway offers opportunities for young professionals and contributes to a low youth unemployment rate as well as very low student debt in Switzerland. Swiss companies see apprenticeships as a strategy for building a talent pool. In the interest of continuing to provide high-quality products, they have a strong interest in investing in the next generation of skilled workers.

“Apprentice programs are now an essential source of talent to support our customers’ evolving needs.” Al Crook, Head of Apprenticeship and HR Business Partners at Zurich North America

Inspired by the Swiss model, Zurich North America, a leading provider of insurance products and services to businesses and individuals, has expanded its “earn-while-you-learn” apprenticeship program to its New York City office. Zurich’s apprentices are high school graduates, military veterans or simply those looking for a new career opportunity. During the two-year program, they work three days at Zurich and attend classes two days a week. The program attracts diverse talents to the insurance industry while providing a debt-free path to a professional career.

The Consulate General of Switzerland in New York talked to Jennifer Arias, who is currently doing a General Insurance Apprenticeship, and Al Crook, Head of Apprenticeship and HR Business Partners at Zurich North America in New York, to find out more about the program, its added value for the company and its impact for the US labor market and economy.

Jennifer “Jae” Arias, Apprentice with Zurich North America in New York City

Jennifer Arias, 2020

“Being in this apprenticeship for a year plus, I couldn’t be happier.”

Why did you choose to do an Apprenticeship?

Jennifer Arias: For seven years prior to Zurich, I was working in dermatology as an office manager. I had only completed high school. I chose the apprenticeship program because, as a mom of now three children, I felt that it was important to lead by example.

I always talked about how much I loved school and learning but never quite made the transition to higher education. Not that I didn’t try — three times to be exact. There was always something that prevented me from starting.

A friend of mine who was working at Zurich told me about the apprenticeship program. I immediately logged onto the website and signed up for the virtual informational meetings to make sure that this would be the right fit. How could it not be? I would be able to go back to school, which was something that I never could figure out: To go back to school, I would have to give up time at work, but I would need the money to pay for school, so it was almost impossible.

In a few words, can you explain to us what a typical week of Apprenticeship at Zurich looks like?

Jennifer Arias: I work in Zurich’s National Accounts area. I’ve completed a rotation in construction and now work in international, and with each rotation, I’m learning new parts of the business. A typical week for me starts with team meetings on Monday mornings, then focused time interacting with brokers, establishing relationships with Zurich employees in other countries, and taking care of accounts with the supervision of my on-the-job coach. And there’s that amazing hour a day that Zurich gives us for study time. Wednesdays and Fridays follow Monday’s lead. Tuesdays and Thursdays are devoted to school.

Being in this apprenticeship for a year plus, I couldn’t be happier. I’m thriving at work and in school, with a 3.9 GPA. I’ve been invited to the honor society. It’s all possible because Zurich affords me the balance that I need to be able to succeed.

Al Crook, Head of Apprenticeship and HR Business Partners at Zurich North America

Al Crook

“Our Cyber Security apprentice program allows us to hire and develop talent more quickly than an alternative college route.”

Why is Zurich North America offering Apprenticeship Programs?

Al Crook: Apprentice programs are now an essential source of talent to support our customers’ evolving needs. We have learned what is well known in many other countries, especially in Switzerland, which is that interesting and fulfilling careers can begin in many ways, if people are given access to different paths.

What benefits and added-value do apprenticeships offer to Zurich North America?

Al Crook: As a company that values innovation, we feel that our innovative Apprentice program also gives us an advantage as we compete in the marketplace. The employees that this program attracts are smart, creative, energetic, thoughtful, and agile; all qualities we need within our company. Most important, apprenticeships bring to us talented individuals who would have been excluded from many roles at Zurich simply because they did not have a college degree. We value education highly, but we also know that this education can come from many sources, including through our “earn-while-you-learn” model. This model focuses the learning, at school and on the job, directly in line with the company’s needs.

How do apprenticeships meet the needs of today’s US / New York labor market and economy?

Al Crook: No employer has enough talent. This is especially true now but is an evergreen challenge for almost every established company in any region or economic cycle. For an employer, anything that can be done to shorten the cycle to develop talent to meet business needs is a good thing. Apprenticeships do just that. For example, our Cyber Security apprentice program allows us to hire and develop talent more quickly than an alternative college route — plus the apprentices are co-mingling their school learning with on-the-job work, which we all know is the best way to develop quickly.

Also, apprenticeships are scalable and growing across the U.S. Our first expansion outside of our suburban Chicago headquarters was to our New York City operations. These two cities, along with several others we are expanding to in 2022, offer us access to outstanding, diverse talent pools, from which we can continue expanding our capabilities for our customers.

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Zurich National Apprenticeship Week Summit

For more information on the Zurich Apprenticeship Program, join Zurich’s third annual Zurich National Apprenticeship Week Summit on Friday, November 19, from 11–12 am. Program leaders and apprentices will share insights on the application process, program details, what it is like to be an apprentice and what happens after completion of the program. To register to attend, click here.

Switzerland’s Vocational Education and Training & Apprenticeships

If you would like to know more information on how Switzerland’s vocational and professional education and training system could be a model for apprenticeships in the U.S.:

Official Medium account of the Embassy of Switzerland, Consulates General and Swissnex in the United States of America. Follow our stories.