The Myth of the Tech-Savvy Millennial

The idea that Millennials have superior tech skills and knowledge is something that has been an oft-repeated fact, both in the insurance industry and in our national consciousness. It makes sense; Millennials are the first generation of ‘digital natives’ – those who grew up with computers, social media and access to the Internet – so naturally, they are far more tech savvy than previous generations. That’s why the findings in a recent report from Change the Equation (CTEq) are so shocking: a majority of Millennials in the U.S. are classified as “unskilled” in technology, often struggling to solve problems both at home and work. This demographic ranked last out of 19 countries for those tested with technology skills.

CTEq, a non-profit CEO-led organization that mobilizes the business community to support and improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, found that just because Millennials use technology often – an average of 35 hours per week on digital media – doesn’t mean they can apply technology well in the workplace. A whopping 58 percent of Millennials were shown to have poor technology skills, amounting to 13 million low-skilled employees. Even more alarming is that an overwhelming 91 percent don’t believe that low computer skills have ever hurt their chances of receiving a job, promotion or raise.

This is problematic for several reasons. How do you help someone who doesn’t think they need help? What can the insurance industry do to not only attract Millennial talent, but also train and get them up-to-speed so they can be effective insurance professionals? It’s far too common for hiring managers to cite their frustration about finding younger talent with the right skill set to thrive in an insurance career. There are no easy answers, but several factors will be crucial to this issue, including perception, company culture, and an investment of time and resources.

Perception Is a Problem

While many assume Millennials are highly skilled given their exposure to technology, the CTEq report shows that many do not know how to solve problems that require several steps – like how to locate information on a spreadsheet by organizing rows and columns and then emailing it to the appropriate people.

CTEq found that nearly 60 percent of job openings require basic STEM literacy, with more than 40 percent requiring advanced skills. According to a recent survey of 126 CEOs, 97 percent reported that the tech skills gap is a significant problem.

For the insurance industry, the issue is two-fold. First, it’s important to erase false perceptions that Millennials automatically understand technology and recognize that candidates may lack basic tech skills needed in the workplace. Second, because the issue isn’t well recognized by Millennials themselves, it has the potential to exacerbate the perception issue of insurance as an attractive career option.

According to the The Wall Street Journal, insurance is on the list of least-desirable industries for Gen-Y to join. It intensifies the need for the industry to address basic tech skills training so that Millennials don’t become frustrated, falsely attribute that frustration and abandon the industry, when it’s already difficult to recruit them.

How to Reach Them

Reaching this generation and engaging with them are entirely separate issues. The insurance industry must learn what it takes to entice them and fill the jobs that are needed immediately. This can be accomplished by rehabilitating insurance’s image as an industry devoid of change and excitement, interacting on social media, and adopting policies that are in line with values that Millennials find important.

For example, Millennials have been shown to gravitate toward industries that reward creativity and work-life balance. Engaging with them early on and getting them interested by showing how far insurance has come will help not only bring in the best talent, but give others the skills to be successful. The industry can also join with other industries in educating younger generations on what career requirements are needed in a 21st century workplace. According to a study by Capital One and Burning Glass, middle-skill jobs that require technology grew 2.5 times faster between 2003 and 2013, compared to middle-skill jobs not requiring technology at all.

The Learning Curve

Once the right talent has been reached and hired, it’s not enough to hope that they can fare well on their own. The industry needs to invest in teaching on-the-job basic and advanced STEM skills that directly help employees effectively manage day-to-day duties. Millennials do not have the patience for decades-old legacy systems that are out-of-date and inefficient.

A learning curve is natural, but ensuring that mentorship and guidance are part of the process helps in two ways:

Millennials learn complex new systems and best practices while gaining valuable relationships and mentors in the company.

Current employees and managers create bonds with the newer generation that will help identify their skill sets and where their talents would be best utilized, helping the company and giving Millennials a sense of ownership over their work.

Take Responsibility

While many Millennials may not be currently equipped with the skill set to jump right into a career in insurance, it is unfortunately up to all industries to address the skills gap.

At the current rate of innovation in the industry, it isn’t likely that insurance will be able grab a lion’s share of the small pool of tech talent over their flashier competition, which means we need to help train more candidates with the right skills. The insurance industry must invest in the next generation of talent by first showing them the value of high technology skills for their future, along with innovative, meaningful ways to apply this knowledge.