Revamping recruitment to grow creativity and inclusion

Emma Austen, Head of Employer Brand and Professional Qualifications in Guest blog

4 March 2019

At AXA, apprenticeships have long been regarded as a great way to enter our industry. They give aspiring professionals the essential skills and experience to thrive at work whilst gaining a recognised qualification.

However, even though over 400,000 people started an apprenticeship in England and Scotland last year, many see them as archaic – paling in comparison to university education. Perhaps it is a lack of understanding of the benefits of an apprenticeship that contributes to these opinions. In January, the Government launched a £2.5 million ad campaign to challenge 'snobby and outdated attitudes' that were putting people off apprenticeships. This is one strand of their pledge to create and invest in apprenticeship schemes as a credible alternative pathway for future education, largely through the Apprenticeship Levy.

For AXA, the levy provided further opportunity for us to think creatively about how we could improve our recruitment process. Like many companies in the financial sector, our recruitment operations largely focused on the competitive graduate market, traditionally dominated by consultancy firms. Whilst this approach has its benefits, we believe it fails to represent a significant long-term return on investment and, in the past, led us to hiring from a narrow strata of university graduates, consequently failing to sufficiently promote diversity and social mobility.

After a comprehensive review, we took the radical step to scrap all but one of our formal graduate programmes in 2018. In their place came a strengthening of our apprenticeship schemes offered to both new and existing employees. By partnering with some of the best training providers in the UK, we utilised the apprenticeship levy to fund a diverse range of government approved apprenticeships, offering professional qualifications including CII, CIMA, CIM, AAT and Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. The studying areas were vast too, from IT to claims and from underwriting to HR we had schemes we could offer.

Driving this change was a belief in continuous learning, especially considering the levy changes removed the upper-age restriction for modern apprenticeships. For school leavers, well-structured and challenging programmes were set-up to help young employees gain a recognised qualification whilst developing the skills required in a work environment. For more experienced employees, the schemes provided an attractive platform to incorporate learning back into their working life.

Over the past 12 months we have started over 100 apprenticeships across AXA and see that number increasing throughout 2019. We have over a dozen further vacancies available from National Apprenticeship Week which starts today. As part of our apprenticeship drive we have started to engage with schools and colleges situated around our office locations to signpost the alternatives available to students because we recognise that there is a need to break down any stigma attached to apprenticeships.

We are proud to offer an attractive scheme for both candidates looking for a clear career progression and for our current staff who want to expand their existing skill set. By revamping and extending the apprenticeship scheme, AXA has opened-up an opportunity to widen its applicant pool and ultimately improve the diversity of the talent pipeline progressing from junior to executive levels.

We genuinely believe this approach is the right one, but it is also really pleasing that we are being noticed in this space as a credible provider of apprenticeships. Back in November, Lord Knight, the Labour peer and former Minister of State for Education and Skills stated in the House of Lords:

“[AXA] have done away with graduate recruitment. AXA prefers to source people earlier and train and develop them to meet its individual needs. It is not alone: Apple, Google, Costco, Starbucks—all these companies, according to Glassdoor, are phasing out graduate-only recruitment because they want more diversity in their workforce.”

We recognise that education and recruitment are modernising. That’s why we have made a conscious effort to revamp the way we do things, to grow creativity and inclusion throughout our business and to create a system for continuous learning to develop our employees.

If you would like to find out more information regarding our apprenticeship schemes please visit