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Open Eye: Insurance for a bright future

CGU's link with the OU extends beyond a business deal - and into business classes
Insurance giant CGU joined forces with the Open University earlier this year to offer graduates and students an affinity insurance scheme. Every policy taken out means a donation to the OU's Development Fund. But, as Yvonne Cook discovers, the company's association with the Open University goes deeper.

In addition to its affinity relationship providing home, travel, and motor insurance at special rates for the OU community, the CGU currently spends around pounds 100,000 a year putting its staff through a management development scheme run with the OU Business School courses.

"It's a tripartite arrangement between the individual employee, CGU and the OUBS," explains Barry Dyer, CGU's Director of Organisational Learning. The employee gives 8 to 12 hours a week of their own time; the business provides funding and some in-house workshops, run by OUBS, which give students the opportunity to come together. And the learning material and tuition are provided by the OUBS. Students can work towards the Certificate or Diploma in Management, or the full MBA.

What advantages does the organisation see in the arrangement? "CGU has 100 branches around the UK. The OUBS is nationally based, so there will be a tutor group wherever our students are, and we are able to offer the same opportunities to all our staff," says Barry.

"Training demonstrates our commitment to developing the managers of the future. We are keen to grow our own talent within the company."

Acceptance on the scheme is not automatic - applicants undergo a selection process. One of the successful ones is Stewart MacKenzie, a senior underwriter based in CGU's Perth office. He gained his Professional Certificate in Management after 11 months study, and is now on another stint to achieve the Diploma.

"I hadn't done any formal study since I left school at 17, more than 20 years ago. I found it difficult at first to get back to studying, but the support was there to enable me to do it.

"I chose this programme because I can walk away with a professional qualification after just one or two years. Or I could find myself going for the full MBA. "One of the best things has been meeting other people from all different areas in the public and private sector, at day schools and residential schools."

Open Learning manager Christine Bishop set up the first pilot scheme with the OUBS in 1994 for General Accident. When GA merged with Commercial Union last year, the scheme remained and was incorporated into a CGU programme.

"We had done our own internal training and would try to get people onto MBA programmes, but we had a lot of drop-outs. The whole MBA was too much for some. We wanted something that took people on from where our training left off and built them up to something else.

"The OUBS programme offered the standards and a progression from Certificate to MBA. But if people stop at Certificate or Diploma, that's fine. Some of the original pilot group are now finishing their MBA."