From the January 2012 issue of American Agent & Broker • Subscribe!

Flipping the Switch

The Griffith Foundation’s Insurance Education and Career Summit launched in September with the goal of creating an industry-wide initiative to attract young workers. Here’s what’s been happening since then.

Insurance is not an industry that needs an overhaul on how we do business or what we offer. However, few will deny that our industry suffers from an "image" problem. Case in point: No insurance or insurance-related company cracks the "Top 10 most desired employers" list referenced in a recent CNET.com article by Don Reisinger. In case you’re curious, the 10,000 recent college graduates with 1 to 8 years of professional experience surveyed put Google in the top spot, followed by Apple, Walt Disney, the Department of State and Amazon.com. The list rounds out with the FBI, Microsoft, the CIA, NASA and Teach for America. Clearly, technology companies have a strong image among young workers.

On the other hand, insurance is the victim of a "perception-versus-reality" misconception. And the best way to reverse this is to drum up some recognition—to shine a figurative light on our industry’s incredible offerings and tremendous potential for young professionals.

Before the Light

To set the stage, consider these facts cited in various Griffith Insurance Education Foundation research documents:

  • Students earning a degree in risk management and insurance (RMI) or actuarial science (AS) enjoy nearly 100 percent placement rates at graduation.
  • Insurance careers match diverse interests. From mathematicians to self-described "people-persons," there’s a position for all.
  • Those positions offer opportunity. Actuarial science has been consistently ranked among the top 10 jobs for college graduates based on employment outlook and income with demand expected to outpace average job growth through 2018. At the same time, underwriting has ranked among the top 25 jobs, based on factors such as environment, income and security.
  • We’re hiring. CEOs of leading carriers and brokers cite managing talent as one of the industry’s top three priorities.

Related: Read the article "Insurers, Academics, Students Tackle "Talent Gap" by Laura Mazucca Toops.

Unfortunately, all these positives are being counter-punched by these realities:

  • We’re facing a talent vacuum. The number of workers in the insurance industry age 55 and older is almost 30 percent higher than other industries. Yet the supply of graduates from the nation’s risk management programs currently provides only 10 percent to 15 percent of the industry’s employment needs.
  • Little interest. More than 40 percent of surveyed high school students indicated no interest in pursuing an insurance career. In addition, around 40 percent of those same students said they also had no interest in even learning about insurance careers.

Contrast these numbers again with technology: A January 2011 study by the Career Advisory Board presented by DeVry University and conducted by Harris Interactive found 63 percent of Millennials believe the technology industry holds the most opportunity of any field over the next 15 years.

What’s Different Now?

Industry-wide studies have long sounded the alarm of poor public image and the gap in perception versus reputation. And although trade associations and individual insurers have established many great initiatives to attract and retain young workers there has never been a coordinated industry-wide approach to the issue—until now.

The Insurance Education and Career Summit, organized by The Griffith Insurance Education Foundation with The Institutes as a major sponsor, convened last September with two main goals: to identify the primary barriers to workforce supply needs and to develop a strategy for overcoming these barriers. I’m excited to report that we’re well on our way to meeting this tremendous challenge and feel confident that we’ll be successful.

Related: Read Laura Mazucca Toops' article "Students at an Insurance Meeting? Believe It."

One industry that faced a similar challenge—accounting—already has proven it can be done. Following implementation of their own program, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) was able to show a 30 percent increase in the number of accounting majors over 5 years and CPA firms increased the number of new hires out of schools by 83 percent.

Now it’s our turn.

Getting Organized

The summit attendees, representing industry professionals, academics, students and members of a variety of professional organizations, brainstormed to compile a list of barriers limiting the industry’s ability to attract and retain talent. These were then organized into three primary silos based on whether they were related to a lack of resources, recruitment issues or poor industry reputation. The group ultimately identified the top three initiatives which would provide the greatest impact:

  1. Market research to aid development of a targeted campaign
  2. Unified messaging to maximize impact
  3. Centralized industry information collection to organize the initiative.

At the conclusion of the 3 days, it was clear that some genuine enthusiasm and energy had been established. Carol Blaine, former director of program management from Nationwide Insurance, described the summit as "the most powerful discussion across the industry that I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in the 35 years I’ve been in this great industry."

Timothy Mazurczak, a student at Canisius College, said, "I believe that the future of the industry has been changed as a result of this conference."

Summit attendees selected Griffith and The Institutes to lead efforts to advance the three initiatives and encourage the participation of as many industry organizations as possible. Pete Miller, CPCU, president and CEO of The Institutes, said, "We’re excited to join with the Griffith Foundation in leading this charge. We are committed to bringing our unique perspective, contacts and 100-plus years’ of industry experience to help reach these vital goals."

Maintaining Momentum

Summit attendees recognize that the momentum must be maintained. "If we are going to succeed, we must ensure that the overall collaborative message is not lost," said Shaun Sinclair, program head, general insurance and risk management of the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT).

Both The Griffith Foundation and The Institutes remain committed to pushing the process forward, and we already have impressive industry partners joining in.

Related: Read "Can Industry Unite on Recruitment?" by Sam J. Friedman.

"CNA continues its long-term relationship with the Griffith Foundation because the Griffith Foundation is committed to creating awareness about the insurance industry to individuals who are looking into the vast number of career opportunities the industry has to offer. Because of this alignment, CNA realizes that it is critically important to create awareness about the industry that will attract top talent to win in the marketplace," said Donald L. Avery, assistant vice president of human resources at CNA Insurance Cos.

Since the summit was held in September, we’ve already completed an initial study on Millennials, the youngest members of our potential workforce and the key to long-term industry health. Summit attendees recognized that understanding this generational group was vital, and the "Report on Existing Millennial Research" was an important first tactic to furthering recruitment and retention.

The report organizes findings into two broad categories: general characteristics of Millennials, and their employment expectations, wants and needs:

  • Millennials are extremely comfortable with technology, reflected by their ability to use multiple devices simultaneously. They also use social media as a primary form of communication.
  • When describing their career objectives, Millennials apply descriptors such as "meaningful," "challenging," "satisfying" and "collaborative." They also cite the importance of an employer that supports social responsibility and invests in its employees’ continued career training and development.
  • The industry must collectively invest in mentoring and internship programs to address this expectation.
  • Key to reaching Millennials is through technology, specifically social media and targeted website development. Communication must showcase positive news stories and topics of current interest to highlight the dynamic nature of the insurance field.

The report also recommends additional research for exploration. Proposed topics include facilities, environment/attitude, technology, training and development, onboarding practices and work/life balance issues. These topics must be fully understood to help the industry match deliverables to Millennial expectations

"As a representative of the academic community, we see the challenges the industry faces in attracting young talent. We have to grab their attention and tell them something that motivates them to take the next step and look into insurance," said Rob Hoyt, head of the risk management and insurance program at the University of Georgia. "This initial research is already pointing us in the right direction."

Reaching Out

Ongoing collaboration between project participants is vital to long-term success—it’s the only way we’ll ensure that this effort to attract talent is different from the fractured efforts attempted in the past. Fortunately, technology will make this possible. To facilitate discussions, encourage dialogue and hold leadership accountable, we’ve already created a group in The Institutes’ online Community. Named "Engaging the Next Generation," this private community group for the use of participants in this initiative will help members exchange ideas and establish tactics that are timely, relevant and focused (go to theinstitutes.org/community for information on site launch).

To fuel the additionally important objective of garnering positive industry press for our initiatives, we have recently released the first of multiple academic papers on the topic of recruitment and retention.

Upping the Watts

So we’ve flipped that initial switch with successful completion of the Insurance Education and Career Summit. We added illumination with the "We’re reaching out to the public at large, with particular focus on younger workers. And we have impressive industry collaboration with distinct awareness that we can’t risk becoming "just another initiative among many, without the unified message and effort we are seeking," as Sam Friedman, Insurance Leader of Deloitte Research and former editor-in-chief of National Underwriter warned.

The U.S. Dept. of Labor reports that more than 2 million people work in the insurance industry. With such numbers can come serious impact—if we work together. To effectively change the talent outlook, we need active participation from all industry segments—carriers, associations, agents, brokers, educators and students.

Light On

It’s in the best interest of today’s insurance professionals to care about the talent coming behind them because a vital, growing industry rewards us all, creates an energized environment and provides resources for ongoing investment and opportunity.

"I’m excited by my future. I think the insurance industry is a great place to establish a career," says Callie Pikcilingis, a student from Florida State University who attended the summit.

Her enthusiasm is understandable to others working within the insurance industry—she’s already "seen the light." Now let’s work together to make it visible to those who are still in the dark.

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