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Zurich North America first launched its apprenticeship program in 2016. Since then, the program has doubled in size. In recent years it has expanded to include Rural Community Insurance Services (RCIS), Zurich's crop insurance business.
“Apprenticeship is one of the best ways to give people careers that actually last,” said Kristof Terryn, Zurich North America CEO. “When I look at our retention of apprentices, they are making really good careers here.”
The two-year journey is an earn-and-learn opportunity. Apprentices split their time each week. Monday, Wednesday and Friday are on-the-job training under the mentorship of RCIS colleagues. Tuesday and Thursday are focused on college coursework.
RCIS apprentices earn an associate degree in agricultural business through Northeast Iowa Community College. Tuition is covered. They are also considered full-time employees and are paid as such. Apprentices receive full benefits and are guaranteed a position upon program completion.
We spoke with three RCIS apprentices to learn more. Here is what they said.
Raynee Gottbreht, RCIS Claims Apprentice
Raynee Gottbreht’s career in higher education wasn't aligning well with her husband's in farming.
“I was running a pharmacy technician program at Turtle Mountain Community College,” said Raynee, who is from Rolette, North Dakota. “I'd have summers off, but that is the busiest time of year for my husband.”
So, when Raynee saw a Facebook post about the apprenticeship program, she decided to go for it.” It felt like an opportunity to get our schedules aligned. Spend more time with the kids as a family.”
Raynee admits the leap from teaching pharmacy to studying ag business has been a big one. “But I've had so much support. From the college and Zurich to my advisors and colleagues at RCIS. Plus, my fellow classmates. We've created a bond. We help each other out.”
As a former professor, Raynee is happy education is at the heart of the program.
“The fact that I could earn a degree while making this career change was my deciding factor. It's been cool to see the work and education go hand-in-hand. Our instructor is very good about teaching what we're doing in the field.”
And, yes, her home life is benefitting. “It's already helped tremendously. I'm there in the morning to put my kids on the bus. My husband and I have a common interest. Our family has more time together. I feel like it's bringing us all closer.”
Kayla Marker, RCIS Claims Apprentice
For Ohio native Kayla Marker, the apprenticeship allows her to follow in her grandma's footsteps.
“This is the career I've been hoping for so it's a huge opportunity for me,” said Kayla. “My grandma works for RCIS in claims. I've watched her work over the years. It's always interested me.”
So far, Kayla is enjoying her apprenticeship. “It's been awesome. There is a whole support system through the college, Zurich and RCIS. Everybody's always willing to help me with my questions.”
When it comes to the future, 20-year-old Kayla is aiming for a long, rewarding career in crop insurance. “I hope to successfully complete the program. Then I plan to stick with RCIS for a very long time.”
Cleve Newton, RCIS Underwriting Apprentice
After four years in the Navy, Cleve Newton applied for an RCIS apprentice position after hearing about it from his dad.
“My dad owns a crop insurance agency contracted with RCIS,” said Cleve, who is from Williamsburg, Georgia. “This opportunity is important to me because it's providing me a standardized plan to learn about crop insurance while getting paid.”
He could have learned from his dad, but Cleve felt strongly about earning an education on his own.
“I'll come back and learn why he does things the way he does, but first I wanted to see different perspectives. There are so many different divisions of crop insurance. Claims adjusters, underwriting, sales, insurance agents. We all have different jobs and different perspectives of what we do daily.”
Cleve is hopeful this program fast tracks his career. “My hopes for the future are to advance as much as I can at RCIS and see what opportunities are there for me. Eventually, maybe start my own branch under my dad's agency.”
Join the next class of RCIS apprentices.
Selection for the next round of RCIS apprenticeships will begin soon. The next class of apprentices will begin work and classes in August 2023.
Here is why Raynee says you should consider it: “It's a great opportunity no matter what direction you're coming from. You're learning and working right away so you can figure out your career interest faster. Plus, an agricultural business degree is applicable to so many fields. Within RCIS alone, there are so many opportunities internally.”
Kayla echoes that statement: It's a great opportunity. “They pay for your schooling so you're not starting your career with student loan debt. Yes, it's a big learning curve but you're well-supported. In the end, it's a career you can stick with for a long time.”
Zurich’s earn-and-learn program was the first insurance apprenticeship to be registered with the U.S. Department of Labor. Since 2016, Zurich has expanded its two-year associate degree program from its Chicagoland headquarters to New York in 2020 and to more than 16 states in 2022. This year Zurich also added a bachelor’s degree apprenticeship pathway.
If you are interested in an RCIS apprenticeship or apprenticeships in other areas of Zurich North America, learn more at zurichna.com/careers/apprentices.
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