AG is one of the largest Belgian insurers. With some 4,500 employees, it is also one of the country's major employers. However, the business of insurance and financial services is changing considerably. For example, the customer wants to be served from nearby, with a very personal service, where, when and how he wants it. And not only via the broker's office or the bank agency, but also on a mobile smartphone or tablet. As a result, the services of an insurer and its distribution partners will increasingly rely on digital information technology.
Together, they are already around 660, AG's group of IT employees, 430 of whom are internal. In the next few years they will have to continue recruiting efforts to grow, make the digital switch and cope with the retirement of colleagues. That is why AG is constantly looking for new employees who are very much in tune with the digital and changing desires of the customer.
AG takes a creative approach to the War on Talent. That has to do with labour shortage. That's why AG started a Traineeship programme ten years ago: the IT Young Pro programme. Laura Antonacci coordinates this programme. "Within IT Young Pro we recruit young graduates and train them further. If you want to attract young people, as an insurance company you face heavy competition, especially with a popular profile such as IT people. We have assessed where we can take initiatives, what we can do ourselves. How can we make ourselves super-attractive?"
In 2017, we recruited fourteen young graduates. Over the past two years, that number has risen to almost thirty a year. They are immediately offered an open-ended contract. Not only do we recruit typical technical profiles, but we also look for other target groups, such as economists with strong communication skills. These are university graduates with a passion for IT. There doesn't necessarily have to be a link with insurance, we have sufficient in-house training for that. This is an added value for inquisitive profiles".
The training immersion starts very technically when the young people enter, with a twelve-day intensive course and ends with technical and insurance training and coaching on the job spread over the year. When the year comes to an end, the focus is on soft skills. StreetwiZe then sharpens the 'soft' skills of the young IT professionals at AG.
"IT today is more and more about communicating, empathy, collaboration, being able to sell your idea. People shouldn't just be experts in one domain. We want to evolve in our IT profiles towards 'homo universalis' who are additional experts in their field. We want experts who see the big picture. You can't have a tunnel vision in IT. You have to be able to empathize with the needs of the user. You have to be able to think critically about what you are developing. How can you make it digitally as simple as possible for the user? The ability to empathize is crucial. That is why we have expanded our programme with a section on soft skills. That's why we started working with StreetwiZe three years ago."
The Street Skill trajectory that StreetwiZe provides for AG runs over six days, spread over three months (four days of training, a kick-off session of half a day, two half days of project lab and a half-day closing session).
"First there is a half-day kick-off for everyone, meant to engage and motivate," says Laura Antonacci, "followed by sessions on project management, pitching and storytelling... those are very important aspects. If you don't have those skills, it's hard to get your idea sold. And if, for example, you want to move on to a role as a project leader, you also need soft skills that underpin the coaching".
"In the following weeks, each Young Professional goes through the workshops on three street skills: positive focus, agility & resilience and proactive creativity. Once our young IT professionals have sharpened these skills, they are given the opportunity to work in groups on a project that they think will add value for AG. In this way, they can fine-tune their pitching, project management and storytelling skills. StreetwiZe continues to coach them throughout the entire process. At the end, each group then pitches its project to the management team".
"For example, one group has been looking for a way for employees to get to know each other more quickly. If you're new somewhere, you often run into that question. Their idea was 'In the future we might be able to build a nice relaxation space...' What StreetwiZe then does is help them set up such a programme. Not in the practical construction of the space, but in the way you organise the project and tackle the various process steps. For example, they started with a try-out, a kicker tournament, and afterwards a feedback survey. Eric Vanbiervliet, our StreetwiZe coach, helps our young talents understand how best to tackle a project. If the group sits together and Eric notices that they don't come to a solution, he will facilitate and support them in applying the street skills".
"StreetwiZe helps young talents understand how to best organise a project”.
I'm asking why StreetwiZe was chosen as a partner. "For their unique approach which is inspired by the lives of street children, oriented on practice, and the new angle that offers! The topics they offer all go back to skills that street children also need. That makes it very manageable, back to basics. The fact that by using their trainings, you contribute to the development of Mobile School is a nice bonus of course ".
Laura Antonacci tells us how the IT Young Pro's deal with their street-skills immersion. "In general, people react very positively. They are very eager to learn that sort of thing. Young people turn out to be very eager to learn. You have a number of starters with a great appetite for this type of knowledge. Other people are already skilled, for example communicative, but want to refine their skills..."
"The story of StreetwiZe and Mobile School, the goal and the energy, drives these young people. The 'why' of it is very clear. We usually think we can't learn anything from street kids, but the opposite is true. And to turn the question around and ask ourselves what we can learn from street children, this exciting change in perspective attracts young people very strongly.
Laura Antonacci not only coordinates the IT Young Pro trajectory but she also co-organises the three IT recruitment days, application days that AG organises annually, in March, April and December.
"The idea is that students find out during that same day if they can start with us. They receive explanations about the company, taste the atmosphere, they are interviewed by IT and HR, and prepare a business case together with two or three others. On that day, we already give feedback, so students don't have to visit us two or three times".
"Apart from our Recruitment day, we also organize Solidarity days with the company. During your participation you can volunteer, for example to help renovate the house of a youth shelter. When we talk about that kind of engagements, it immediately arouses interest. It is not only about making money. ”
"Young people very much want an added value. If they are going to work for a company, they want this company to be committed to a cause. I think that this view is much stronger now than it was a few years ago. Generations are becoming more aware and conscious through time. A month later in their training, we organise a breakfast with the management for our IT Young Pros. 'What does AG give back to society?' is one of the questions that is always asked, just like 'Who do you cooperate with?'"
"How's the partnership with StreetwiZe coach Eric?" I ask. "Eric is very passionate about what he does. At the end of the day, it's not about transferring technical knowledge, it's about getting young people to develop. Eric recognises very well the opportunities that arise. He responds very appropriately when people get stuck. He is also very good at getting the message across and getting those young employees on board. During the training programme, we also constantly adapt to what is happening".
"Every possibility and opportunity is grasped to let the participant learn.”
StreetwiZe has been working with AG for two years now in the framework of the IT Young Pro project. I ask Laura Antonacci how she would describe StreetwiZe's approach to the young promising IT talents. "It is very much focused on human growth," she answers spontaneously. "It's really about how and in what way the young people can learn best. In the project lab, for example, there was a group where everyone had different ideas. That really clashed. In the final phase, the group members themselves put that point forward as a working point. This then triggered Eric to focus on that point with them. Afterwards, the group members indicated that they had learned the most from those exercises. Every opportunity to learn is captured by StreetwiZe. Every opportunity, every possibility, every point of discussion is used to let the participant learn. That also applies to me as a coordinator. I was constantly asked if I needed help with something and if I saw any improvement. It's really a very personal approach, and very sincere."