The industry has long warned of the growing agent shortage and has prescribed more aggressive promotion of career opportunities especially in technology to attract the next generation. As the shortages grow more acute, agencies and insurers have taken a fresh look at the problem and are rethinking the solutions starting with an attitude change. One can learn much just by talking to students about what they want and what pushes them away.
“The industry is slow-moving but is becoming better at adapting technology,” says senior Jesse Yan, a finance major at the AXIS Risk Management Academy at the University of Illinois – Champaign. “But if they only appreciate interns for doing data pulls all day long, that’s not what I am looking for.”
Another U of I senior in finance, Lauren Gatziolis, had been considering investment banking but switched her focus and will take a position with a major insurer after graduation.
“I have the requisite technical skills, but I also want to be able to apply and use my analytical skills,” she says. “What I do like about the insurance industry is the flexibility.”
Every student we interviewed confirmed a marked improvement in internship experiences in recent years.
“Alumni come back to campus to tell stories about their internships being far more rigid and their supervisors more resistant to intern input – a ‘this is the way it is, take it or leave it’ approach. That has not been my experience. They want to learn from us while we learn from them.”
The industry is taking note of the need to alter its approach, including ways in which agents can reach out and pull in young talent.
“Agents do participate at some of our chapters’ campus career fairs,” says Sharla Floyd, senior vice president, Strategic Initiatives of Gamma Iota Sigma, an international professional fraternity in 33 states that is organized to promote, encourage and sustain student interest in insurance, risk management and actuarial science as professions.
“Some agents do not see the value of signing up to participate,” says Floyd, “because they believe students don’t see the opportunity on the agency side, but the fact is students can’t pursue paths they don’t know exist. We want the industry to harness the skills these young people come in with to shape existing practices.”
Floyd says agents can post internships to its GIS Career Center (always free to do so). “They should also reach out to faculty department heads, career services, and even student heads of relevant student organizations or clubs to schools to make an introduction and establish relationships, explore speaking opportunities, and expand the net for opportunities like internships,” she says.
That approach is echoed by Deborah Pickford, Executive Director of Invest, a program affiliated with the Insurance Agents and Brokers of America (IIABA) that promotes insurance careers to high school and community college students.
“We are working with the Maryland Insurance Administration in an apprenticeship program attract much-needed talent by allowing high school students to work at insurance companies and agencies to gain valuable experience” Pickford said.
“Agents need to think creatively to attract this young talent,” she said. “There are many examples of how to do this – a sailing enthusiast is now underwriting yachts and an experienced horseman can support an equine book. Combine a young person’s interests to your needs. We’re now dealing with new specialties such as smart homes, smart cars, and cyber liability that require new skill sets.”
With all the demands from technology, students appreciate the human element of insurance. As student Jesse Yan said, “as artificial intelligence improves and comes into more wide use, there will be more need for the human touch, for correct input, without bias. The human should have the final say.”
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