Liberty Mutual pilots apprenticeship program in Arizona

After four years as a jail detention officer, Austin Braaten felt he was on the road to nowhere. A dream of being a detective was fizzling. His work shift left no time for his wife. Difficult inmates were stressing him out.

That’s all turned around. Suddenly, he’s moving up in the world, said Braaten, 23, of Surprise.

Braaten is one of the first apprentices to win a slot with insurance mammoth Liberty Mutual that is piloting its first apprenticeship program in Arizona.

“It’s better than I expected, and it has a great career progression opportunity to advance,” said Braaten, a detention officer for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office before landing the apprenticeship in Scottsdale. “And I love the fact I’m seeing my wife everyday for extended periods of time and she loves it, too.”

Now two months into the program, Braaten is readying to earn the third of four licenses required to be a licensed insurance sales representative. If he successfully completes the year-long apprenticeship, he’s pretty much assured a full-time job. The program includes licensing in personal lines, life and health, product knowledge, and property and casualty.

Liberty Mutual plans to train six sales apprentices this year, and wants to expand apprenticeships to include insurance claims and service, said Julie Uryasz, Personal Insurance Field Distribution Area Manager for Liberty Mutual.

The company, which started in 1912 and is headquartered in Boston, is a leading global insurer with operations in 30 countries. It ranks 68th on the Fortune 100 list with $39.4 billion in annual consolidated revenue.

Liberty is administering the apprenticeship program in conjunction with the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA) and the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES).

“We appreciate the confidence Liberty Mutual has in our state to bring this pilot program – the first in the nation for the company – here,” said Sandra Watson, President and CEO of the ACA. “This program will be of great benefit to Arizonans seeking new opportunities by providing them with an excellent path to careers in the insurance industry.”

Liberty joins the ranks of 124 companies and organizations registered to participate in the state’s “earn as you learn” program. They represent a wide range of industries from major utilities, restaurant and hotel associations, to construction trade groups. There are openings for everything from barbers and painters to engineers and IT professionals.

Started in 1941, the program is seeing its highest numbers in 12 years with more than 3,600 individuals in apprenticeships, said Jillian Seamans, a spokesperson for the Division of Employment and Rehabilitation Services at DES that houses it.

With job growth in Arizona higher than the national rate and growing, the program helps fill gaps in hiring. It also provides opportunities for the unemployed under a new law that requires individuals receiving benefits to accept work after four weeks, provided the job pays at least 120 percent of the individual’s weekly unemployment benefit.

Anyone can apply for apprenticeships, not just the unemployed, Seamans said.

“College is not for everyone and this is a great way for anyone to learn on the job and get hands-on experience.”

Victoria Harker

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