Attracting, Developing Talent a Focus for Westfield Group

By | February 9, 2016

It’s anticipated that by 2020 there will be hundreds of thousands of unfilled positions in the insurance industry and that some 25 percent of those currently working in the sector will retire within the next three years.

The looming talent drain is no surprise — it’s been part of the conversation for years — and many have been working actively to address the problem of attracting new workers. Now, a cross-industry initiative has designated February 2016 as Insurance Careers Month to highlight opportunities within the industry.

One insurance company that has long been proactive in responding to the need to attract and develop top talent into the industry is Westfield Group, based in Westfield Center, Ohio. Insurance is one of the largest industries in Ohio, which is expected to need new workers to fill as many as 26,000 jobs over the next five years.westfieldlogo2

“Westfield has always taken a very active role in understanding what the talent needs are, relative to the industry and relative to Westfield,” said Chris Paterakis, group leader of Human Resources at Westfield Insurance. “We are party to, and participate in a group called the Insurance Industry Resource Council, and there are 13 insurance partners that formed this coalition. It was really to launch awareness about what the insurance industry has to offer in terms of careers.”

The company is involved in many initiatives aimed at driving awareness of industry opportunities to high schools and colleges, and it recruits heavily from 25 to 30 universities and colleges.

“We’ve made half-a-million dollar investments at Kent State University as an investment in their insurance program, which is a Bachelor’s program in insurance studies. We’re a charter member of Bowling Green State University and their Insurance and Risk Management Institute,” Paterakis said.

Westfield also offers insurance education scholarships through the Westfield Insurance Foundation and company employees serve on boards of groups such as InVEST and Trusted Choice, and the insurance fraternity Gamma Iota Sigma.

“It’s been a challenge for a long time and I think we’re seeing the insurance industry coming together on that issue better than we have in the past,” he said. “We’re seeing our institutions of higher learning hearing us and listening to us and seeing us as valuable thought partners there to build curriculums and … degree programs that are focused on risk management and insur­ance.”

Still, it’s not necessary to have a degree or specialization in insurance and risk management in order to enter the industry and be successful.

“There are folks that have those risk management and insurance degrees, but the vast majority … that enter the insurance industry do not,” he said.

At Westfield, Paterakis said, the focus is not necessarily on degrees, it’s on the individual. “When we’re selecting people to enter our training programs or enter our organization we’re more interested in their skills, abilities and competencies than what their diploma says. … We look for people who have strong values, values aligned to our organization. Things like trust, integrity, respect, knowledge. We look for a strong ability to learn.”

The insurance industry is constantly changing so the ability to adapt and learn is essential, he said. “A strong attitude, the ability to work with people, the ability to drive results, all of those things are criti­cally important to us.”

Westfield not only looks for a core set of skills and competencies that can be polished, it also seeks diversity — people with different backgrounds and education.

“We fundamentally believe a diverse team of people will outperform a nondiverse team of people all day, every day,” Paterakis said.

Not the Beginning but the End

Many gateway positions in the insurance industry “may not even require a degree, or require a two-year degree. We talk to folks about not worrying about where they start at Westfield, but where they end, because of our career planning and career orientation,” Paterakis said.

“It starts with conversations and communication in lining those employees up with good coaching, good mentorships. But really, it’s as simple as talking to people about, ‘Where does your passion lie? Where does your interest lie? What do you like to do? What type of people do you like to work with? What type of work do you like to do?'”

The company then seeks to align those interests and desires with development plans and education.

“We look for opportunities in the organization that those folks can go into and be successful. At Westfield, we talk about development as being employee-driven and leader-enabled. The leader helps the employee along the way. They help them chart the path, but at the end of the day, the employee owns their own development,” Paterakis said.

Life-long learning, and growing within the industry and the organization, leads to myriad opportunities and opens many doors, he said.

Chris Paterakis

Chris Paterakis

“I often tell people, ‘Don’t chart just one path. Chart multiple paths,'” he said. “The positions that you maybe look toward five, six, 10 years from now may not even be the same positions that exist today. If you grow your skills, competencies and abilities, it makes you universal and allows you to compete for a variety of roles that this organization will need and have in the future.”

Another challenge for companies today, beyond simply encouraging young people to enter the industry, is the task of managing the four generations that are already in the workplace.

“All four of those generations have different needs, wants and desires,” Paterakis said. “At the onset, the first thing we do, and work hard on, is, ‘What are those things that across all four generations employees need, want and desire?'”

For some for some of the younger generations, things like coaching, schedule flexibility and continuing education are very important. The desire to support social causes and give back to the community seems to span all generations, so there’s a need to provide opportunities and time for employees to get involved with charitable causes.

As for Insurance Careers Month, Paterakis said Westfield sees it as a great opportunity for the industry “to create this connected and unified voice that will help us drive awareness and outreach to a lot of the groups that we may not have connected to in the past.”

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