Bonding with the Next Generation
Just after I addressed a gathering about surplus lines last year, a young woman approached me saying she had been considering changing her major from risk management to fashion. She had been losing interest in an insurance career because it appeared less exciting and she craved a more dynamic line of work. Her college risk management curriculum had never exposed her to surplus lines.
After I finished talking to her, she decided to stay with her major. I was flattered, but what had I said to make her change her mind and stay in the profession? She said she liked that I said no two days in the surplus lines business are alike. She also liked the problem-solving aspect of E&S insurance and how it required you to build relationships with your clients. And she loved that I was so passionate about my work. She said she was beginning to understand why.
Today, she is interning in surplus lines with a renewed commitment and excitement about her profession.
Bad vibes about insurance are far too pervasive among talented young people. My experience tells me the answer isn’t any single silver bullet but, rather, in engaging students personally and broadening opportunities and outreach efforts across disciplines.
We need to start interacting with future professionals in the classroom. When my colleagues and I visit classrooms, we always receive enthusiastic feedback. Given the doomsday rhetoric surrounding the job market, it’s empowering and reassuring for students to hear from energetic people their own age who are excited and engaged in the insurance field. They relate to us as messengers, seeing us as a resource to map the unique challenges they’ll face in starting their careers and proof that it’s realistic to aspire to success.
In my outreach efforts, I emphasize things that inspired me to begin a career in surplus lines. The full spectrum of human endeavor is made possible by insurance. Aerospace startups explore the fringes of space. Research firms develop advanced technologies. Athletes rely on peak physical condition for their livelihood. The possibilities for a career path are astounding.
Investing in next-generation candidates even before they are fully credentialed is also important. I had an opportunity to work with a young woman when she was just a part-time employee in her teens. At the time, she did not have an interest in a career in insurance. She simply needed a job. But that position began a relationship with the company early, and we connected. She didn’t come to us with a wealth of industry experience or a college degree, but that act of good faith earned us a hard-working, dedicated employee who now supervises our claims department.
As a young person in the insurance industry I benefitted greatly from mentoring. From the age of 15, I apprenticed under leaders in the company as I learned claims, underwriting and eventually operations. Without my mentors’ advice and guidance, it would have been difficult for me to establish my career or enjoy the success that I have.
When we do give candidates a glimpse of working in our industry, it’s essential we show them all the opportunities open to them. Too often internships are more like indentured servitude—exercises characterized by low wages and drudgery that don’t leave interns with substantive experience. My experience as an intern mentor showed me a better approach. I guided our intern through nine weeks in the program, staying in constant contact to put her experiences into context and answer any questions. She received a living wage, and her housing and rental car were established in advance, allowing her to focus completely on learning about the surplus lines industry.
Our work doesn’t stop with outreach and internships. Firms must do more to invest in cross-discipline recruiting. Despite the need for expertise in finance, marketing, information technology and accounting in insurance, companies aren’t actively recruiting those students to the business. Pioneering firms have started the process of creating training programs and insurance studies departments at universities, taking proactive steps to increase their presence in higher education. By broadening its search for talent and deepening its engagement with students, the industry can begin to ensure that “talent gaps” are closed on a long-term basis.
Students are anxious to engage with employers. Our challenge in engaging the next generation of insurance professionals is to introduce mentoring strategies early in their development and to better communicate our eagerness to work with the best and brightest of the next generation.