Filed Under:Agent Broker, Agency Management

Education and the looming talent gap

The insurance workforce will look very different in the next five years as more than 25% of the industry retires. (Photo: iStock)
The insurance workforce will look very different in the next five years as more than 25% of the industry retires. (Photo: iStock)

Within the next two years, nearly a quarter of the insurance industry will be thinking more about golf, grandchildren and a possible move to Florida than about premiums, competition and constructive total losses.

That's because, by 2018, 25 percent of risk management and insurance professionals will be at or near retirement age, according to a McKinsey & Company report. As these experienced employees exit the industry, too few younger workers will be replacing them. Only 27 percent of insurance employees are under the age of 35, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The talent shortage created by the lack of qualified applicants in the hiring pipeline is well documented. But this scarcity is also poised to create a significant dearth of knowledge and experience in the risk management and insurance world. As cohorts of industry professionals walk out of their offices for the last time, they’ll take with them a plethora of technical and institutional knowledge that many newer employees have not yet accrued through on-the-job experiences, partnering and coaching with more-seasoned colleagues, and informal or formal educational resources.

This poses a particular problem in the claims space, where sometimes the only person standing between an insurance company and bad-faith claims litigation is a relatively inexperienced claims representative who was given a high level of discretionary authority to settle claims. Michael Durovic, executive vice president at Pharos Claims Services, is already starting to see the effects of this “brain drain” on a rapidly changing industry.

“The claims industry field is becoming more complicated and litigious, while at the same time, fewer company-sponsored training opportunities exist for staff,” Durovic said. “It's a struggle to attract talented employees and help them grow into more advanced positions.”

At Pharos, Durovic combats that struggle by providing employees with monthly guest speakers, access to industry conferences, a robust mentor program and enrollment in industry designation programs, the latter of which, he says, provide an essential big-picture look at the business. He should know; he holds 17 professional insurance designations.

“Earning designations has helped me better understand the functions of an insurance company and how each one interacts with the others. I can draw on this information during meetings and planning sessions to help provide solutions. I may not always have the answer, but I can start conversations by asking questions so we can determine how to proceed.”

Durovic's passion for lifelong learning places him squarely within the 63 percent of working Americans who have taken a course or gotten additional training in the past 12 months to improve their job skills or expertise as it relates to career advancement, according to a recent report by the Pew Research Center.

Much of this learning takes place through organization-sponsored or -supported educational opportunities. However, only half of organizations nationwide pay for training and certifications that employees earn outside the company, according to a CareerBuilder study.

Related: Insurance industry education is more than just letters after your name

colleagues working on a computer


(Photo: Shutterstock)

Motivated to learn

At the same time, organizations are putting less emphasis on in-house training. Across all types of organizations, only one-third of employees say the training and career development opportunities in their organization are excellent or good, as indicated by a Spherion study.

However, individuals who do pursue continuous education certainly see it as a career booster, as research shows that organizations reward employees who seek continuing professional education. According to a study conducted by EvoLLLution, 87 percent of employers said educational attainment positively affects salary and other compensation. Many said continuing education makes employees “more qualified” and “easier to promote.” Within the risk management and insurance industry, 72 percent of professionals who complete the Associate in Claims (AIC) designation, for example, say they received a promotion within two years.

Regardless of the motivation, employees who are invested in expanding their knowledge base within their field of expertise are invested in their industry, and they can be equally invested in their companies when employers support their efforts. This is important for all organizations to remember, as the talent shortage is not limited only to the risk management and insurance industry.

Many industries are experiencing the brain drain and find themselves competing for the same highly skilled individuals who could become loyal employees rather than job hoppers if they see clear career paths within their organizations. Employers that can provide this engagement will see reduced turnover and better return on investment in employee acquisition costs, along with improved productivity.

Fortunately, employers can attain positive results in many ways beyond offering traditional classes. For insurance professionals, exploring digital continuing education channels, pursuing networking opportunities and establishing industry connections play an important role.

“All around the country, there are opportunities for insurance professionals to network and continue to learn,” said Tim Pena, CPCU, a casualty claims adjuster for the Automobile Club of Southern California. “It's a chance to interact with people who do what you do — you could meet your next boss. Whether it's your first year working or you’re a 35-year veteran, you can still take away something new or interact with somebody who can make a difference or enhance your career.”

For Pena, the benefits of lifelong learning extend far beyond technical industry knowledge. As he explained, “Getting that college degree is great, but this industry is about psychology and sociology; it's about people skills and organization. There are so many skills that you can't pick up solely from a textbook. You are never done learning, so the more education you can amass, the better.”

Mary Ann Cook, CPCU is senior vice president of knowledge resources and content development at The Institutes.

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