U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu joined representatives from Zurich America, Harper College and a U.S. ambassador on Tuesday to officially launch what is being touted as a first-of-its kind apprenticeship program for the insurance industry.
The program, which began in January, is the first certified insurance apprenticeship in the U.S., and is based on a model already popular in Switzerland, where Zurich was founded.
It offers Harper students the opportunity to work in the underwriting and claims departments at Zurich's Schaumburg headquarters while earning an associate of applied science degree in business administration from the Palatine college.
Lu said the country is in the middle of a transformation in how people prepare for the workforce, and apprentices are an "investment in the future."
"You all are leaders, you are path breakers, and I look forward to following your remarkable progress over the next couple of years," Lu told students and officials at Zurich's offices.
Students in the two-year program are considered paid employees of Zurich, and receive full benefits. They spend most of their time on the job at Zurich, and attend class one to three days a week. Zurich has committed to training 100 students in the apprentice program by 2020.
Seventy percent of the learning is done on the job, 20 percent through coaching and mentoring, and 10 percent in the classroom, said Brian Little, head of human resources at Zurich North America.
"We want to change how we educate and how we participate in the workforce," Little said.
Harper President Ken Ender said plans for the apprenticeship program came together at "lightning speed." The program adopts new values in how the country educates its workforce.
"This model is what postsecondary education has to be about," Ender said. "The model we grew up on is now changing."
Suzi Levin, U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Lichtenstein, congratulated this year's 25 apprentices on joining Zurich.
"Paths to success have many beginnings, and they don't always start with a college degree," LeVine said. "This is a huge win not just for Zurich, not Schaumburg, Illinois, but for all of America."