From youth apprentice to licensed insurance agent

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Bardstown High School graduate Katlin Eldersma, right, was selected as one of the first insurance youth apprentices in the state through the Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky – or TRACK – youth apprenticeship model.
Bardstown High School graduate Katlin Eldersma, right, was selected as one of the first insurance youth apprentices in the state through the Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky – or TRACK – youth apprenticeship model. She is pictured with Aaron LaRue, Operations Manager at LaRue-Carey Insurance Group.
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When Katlin Eldersma started taking business classes as a freshman at Bardstown High School (Bardstown Independent), she had no idea it would lead to her being a licensed insurance agent at LaRue-Carey Insurance Group just a few months after graduation.

Eldersma said she never really had a game plan in high school, but rather just enjoyed exploring possible careers through her high school business education courses. She knew she could put the skills she learned in those courses to good use in her yet-to-be determined career.

“Insurance was never on my radar as a career to go into after graduating high school,” she said. “The day my business education instructor, Ms. Hodges, spoke to me and several other students about this opportunity with the apprenticeship program, I then began to think about a career in the insurance field. Since then, my whole outlook on insurance has changed drastically.”

Eldersma was selected as one of the first insurance youth apprentices in the state through the Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky – or TRACK – youth apprenticeship model, which pairs high school students in career pathways with employers offering registered apprenticeship programs. The General Insurance Associate apprenticeship is documented by the U.S. Department of Labor and leads to a credential called a journeyperson certificate that is recognized nationally in all 50 states.

Belinda Hodges, Bardstown High School business education instructor, said that apprenticeship takes the traditional work-based learning approach to a new level.

“An apprenticeship is an opportunity for a student to enter a profession with support of others in the industry and gain experience with strong mentorship,” Hodges said. “The educational piece is taking place all along while the student is employed.”

“The youth apprenticeship program can provide a road to professional success for students at little or no cost to the student or employer. Matching up strong and mature student candidates with employers who are excited to partner with schools is key.”

Hodges said she saw Eldersma transform with this opportunity.

“Maturity and initiative were noticed right away,” she said. “Immediately I started receiving very professional emails from Katlin. She would write to me to request a time to meet to discuss the apprenticeship and the coursework involved. Katlin balanced work and school with ease and in the way she communicated with all of the adults working with her.

“Throughout the entire year, it was Katlin who would take the initiative to complete one phase and ask to begin the next. She was motivated to see this apprenticeship program work for her and take advantage of all that it offers.”

One important benefit of the apprenticeship program is growing local talent to work at home.

“I’d like to thank Aaron LaRue and all the individuals at LaRue-Carey Insurance Group that worked with Katlin throughout this school year,” Hodges said. “It’s been a rewarding experience for the co-business instructor, Greg Spears, and me as her teachers, to see Katlin grow as a young professional within the insurance industry.”

Aaron LaRue, operations manager of the agency, said finding talent for the insurance industry is always a challenge.

“It’s just not a career path most young people (high school or college) are really even aware of,” he said. “I thought if we could get a high school student to even get started with us, it would be an eye opener as to what the independent insurance agency system is really about and see that this is a long term, viable career.”

When asked about the return on investment (ROI) of utilizing the youth apprenticeship program, LaRue said it has been a valuable experience,

“I really think the ROI is going to be through the roof if we keep the apprentice long term,” LaRue said. “We’ve only invested a little bit of money and some of our time to potentially groom a long-term employee who comes to our agency with no preconceived notions on how an insurance agency works, how work flows are set up or business is handled in general. If the long-term doesn’t work out, we’ve still only invested a little bit of money and I think by doing the teaching and training, it’s helped our existing staff sharpen their skills.”

“Katlin is learning at a rapid pace and already has her property and casualty license one year into the apprenticeship. She’s accepted any challenge we’ve thrown at her.”

“The apprenticeship program has given me several opportunities that I never thought were possible for an 18-year-old that just graduated high school,” Eldersma added. “The insurance field is a never-ending learning career. By that, I mean you’re always learning something new and you’ll never know everything. That’s what I love about this career; I’m always adding on to my skills I’ve acquired over time at the LaRue-Carey Insurance Group.”

For more information about the TRACK Youth Apprenticeship program, email Mary Taylor from the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) Office of Career and Technical Education.

For more information about the General Insurance Associate Apprenticeship, email Cassie Young, workforce development director at Big I of Kentucky.

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