Midwest Insurance Employment: Sales Agents, Good Talent Always Priorities

By | April 19, 2012

As in every other business sector, during the past few years organizations within the property/casualty insurance industry have sought to maximize efficiencies and take full advantage of the talent in their existing workforce. But it’s not like they haven’t been preparing to ramp up employment levels as needed.

Insurers and agencies in the Midwest have given a lot of thought to their hiring needs, the kinds of talent that best fit their organizations and where they are going to find that talent.

“In the past couple of years we have really tried to absorb new business, workflows and things inside our organization to try to make things more efficient,” says Becky Beane, talent manager at the Hylant Group, headquartered in Toledo, Ohio.

Becky Beane

Like most independent insurance agencies, Hylant, with more than 600 employees in five states, is always on the lookout for great sales people. “That’s what we are — a sales organization,” Beane says. But now the company is beginning to expand its search to add support, administration, middle management positions and more.

MJ Insurance, a large independent agency based in Indianapolis, Ind., also recruits non-stop for sales personnel. Now the company is seeing moderate growth in hiring in other areas, says MJ Insurance President and Chief Operating Officer Jon Loftin, but it’s not necessarily because of what is happening or not happening in the economy.

Jon Loftin

“I can speak specifically for us. We have taken the opportunity to hire some folks that came to us, that pursued us, and have been very opportunistic in that regard,” Loftin says. “We are recruiting for some open positions today. Although, I will say it’s not as much the economy that’s driving that. Not directly, anyway. In other words, we didn’t sit back and get concerned about the economy stagnating so that we better be a lot more conservative in our hiring. We stuck with our strategic plan and if it called for hiring we hired, notwithstanding the economic conditions.”

Southfield, Mich.-based Meadowbrook Insurance, a specialty insurance organization with insurance carrier operations, insurance services and retail/wholesale insurance agency operations, also has been expanding its talent base regardless of economic conditions.

Sarah Grech

“Meadowbrook has been fortunate not to have experienced a major downswing from the poor economy,” says Sara Grech, human resources manager for Meadowbrook. “From a staffing perspective we have nearly doubled the size of our workforce in the last six years. As the economy has shown signs of recovery we are now seeing an influx of resume submissions in all positions.”

High Quality Candidates

One thing Grech has noticed as a result of the economy over the last few years is the high quality of candidate submissions. Over the last 10 years, growing unemployment levels and poor economic conditions have “made a big impact on the quality of candidates we’re seeing today,” Grech says. “With jobs unavailable many people chose to go back to school and seek higher education and designations. Therefore the education skill level for new hires is far more advanced than it has been in years past.”

Beane says there’s now room within Hylant Group to add a variety of positions in addition to sales, including in the areas of marketing, accounting, underwriting and customer service.

“We’re looking for licensed individuals, looking for people that have experience inside the insurance industry,” she says. “We’re looking for people that have agency experience because that is the cleanest, easiest way to get people up and running the fastest.”

She adds that in the past six to 12 months, she’s noticed that people who are already employed are on the move and are “looking at our openings. That has been something very unusual because most of what we were seeing, when we did have a posting, were people that were not employed. … There’s a comfort level and there’s also an acceptance level,” she says. People are now thinking, “If I want to make a move I can do it.”

Loftin says in his ideal world, MJ Insurance, which also has operations in Phoenix, Ariz., would always be able “to hire those with little experience shortly out of college that we can grow and develop on our own. What we look for there is ambition, curiosity, work ethic, and somebody who is committed to a career path, so to speak.

“We’ve had a lot of success doing that, more so than going out and hiring the tenured, experienced person that comes from another agency or another carrier or whatever. Not to suggest that we don’t do that, and we do have to do that from time to time depending on the position, but our preference would be to find that person shortly out of college that’s upwardly mobile and ambitious and curious to grow from within.”

Meadowbrook, with more than 1,100 employees across its diverse units, seeks to “hire associates who have made a commitment to continue with their professional development and designations,” Grech says. “Overall work experience and education will always be the main focus as we continue to grow.”

Any and All Recruiting Methods

Loftin, Grech and Beane all say their organizations are well aware that large numbers of “seasoned” talent are beginning to and will continue to exit the workforce over the next decade or so, and those experienced individuals will have to be replaced.

To that end, MJ Insurance utilizes any and all methods of recruiting, Loftin says. “Word of mouth, direct prospecting internally here — either from myself, from our HR department, from other internal employees — reaching out directly to people, recruiters, the career builder path, anything and everything we’ve tried.”

Grech says her company has been lucky to have a large number of well qualified people approaching Meadowbrook for employment. But the company also uses traditional methods of posting positions, including online, and develops partnerships with various professional associations to spread the word about staffing needs.

Hylant Group routinely participates in career fairs as well as college and university career days, and has developed a relationship with Gamma Iota Sigma, the insurance fraternity, Beane says. She also advocates the use of social media to connect with potential job candidates.

“I think if you’re not doing something related to social media you’re not keeping up,” Beane says.

As an example, Beane adds that after participating in a speaker panel in front of college students in Columbus, Ohio, the majority of students that she met at the event later connected with her through the online professional social media site LinkedIn. “Professors are encouraging them to establish LinkedIn pages, especially as they get into their junior and senior year and they’re looking for internships and they’re getting ready to graduate. I’m hearing from these kids on almost a daily basis — what type of internship opportunities do you have available? Are you hiring? What types of positions are you hiring? … They’re definitely getting some instruction that that is the place to network.”

Developing New Talent

MJ Insurance, Hylant Group and Meadowbrook all have programs in place — and are creating new ones — aimed at developing and mentoring young talent to take over leadership positions in the organizations as Baby Boomers retire.

“We’re doing quite a bit on the generational dynamics in the workplace and trying to really understand that because we get the shift,” Loftin says. He adds that MJ has put a lot of thought into the incentives that motive younger professional — such as a defined career path, stability and work/life balance.

Over the last several years Meadowbrook has launched a claims trainee program throughout is branch offices, says Carol Ziecik, vice president of corporate communications.

“This is an opportunity to provide a professional development position to an associate who is interested in upward mobility,” she says. “For a year we provide mentorship, education and a hands-on learning approach. At the end of the training program the trainee is then offered a claims representative position. This is a great opportunity for the associate and the company. Our program has been very successful and we are looking to expand this opportunity on a broader scale this year.”

Hylant Group has initiated a recruiting and networking program through LinkedIn. Using a recruiting package purchased from LinkedIn, the company is able to “post jobs, to advertise, to establish a career page and communicate with people that are on LinkedIn,” Beane says. “It’s allowing us to have a different level of visibility and to delve into the world of social media and how that’s going to be used in the future.”

Employment prospects vary greatly by employer, region and job specialty. For a closer look, Insurance Journal editors interviewed property/casualty industry leaders in their respective regions and will be filing the following reports this week:

For insurance jobs listings on Insurance Journal, visit:www.insurancejournal.com/jobs/

Topics Agencies Market Talent Training Development

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