When One Door Closes…
It has been a challenging year for students and recent college grads looking to build their résumés and skill sets for a successful future.
While the coronavirus pandemic forced a near-instant stoppage to on-campus recruiting and career fairs, perhaps most critical for young people was the virus’s impact on U.S. internship hiring. Job and recruiting site Glassdoor reported a 49% decrease in internship hiring for May 2020 compared to data from May 2019. With office closures nationwide, nearly 18% of employers reported revoking internship offers during the outset of COVID-19, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Amid the pandemic, as college students faced the elimination of their promised internships, The Council decided to move forward with its internship program.
A member survey revealed that many Council firms also intended to honor their summer internship offers despite their concerns about providing robust programs.
The Council Foundation awarded scholarships to 50 students representing 22 majors, underscoring the many backgrounds that contribute to the industry.
Click here for related content, Council Foundation Scholar Stories
Click here for a complete list of the 2020 Council Foundation Scholars
In the insurance industry specifically, international risk management and insurance fraternity Gamma Iota Sigma reports that 19% of college-age respondents to its annual recruiting survey said they lost internship opportunities already in place due to COVID-19.
While internships are a great way for students to gain work experience and contacts for potential future employment, studies have shown internships are also one of the most successful tools for businesses looking to recruit new grads.
In the four years InterWest Insurance Services in Sacramento has been running its internship program, Dana Hayes, the firm’s HR organizational training and development manager, says 33 students have been introduced to the industry and an impressive number of them have remained with the company. “We are happy to say we have hired about 50% of our interns to date,” Hayes says.
Aware of the harsh reality interns were facing, as well as the crucial need for new talent in member firms, The Council decided to move forward with its internship program despite not knowing what it would look like.
“In March, when our office closed and the city shut down, our 14 incoming interns were just beginning to secure housing reservations, book travel to and from, and put the final touches on their plans to spend the summer in Washington, D.C.,” said Julia Ruiz, The Council’s vice president of leadership and management resources. But by April, realizing that this wasn’t just a “two-week thing,” Ruiz says, a serious decision on the program needed to be made.
“Ultimately, the decision was easy,” she says. “Figuring out how to do it was a little more difficult. Interning across time zones, technology, onboarding in a virtual culture, and maintaining a positive internship experience were just a few of the hurdles, but it was worth the challenge. Fulfilling our company’s commitment to these students by allowing them to participate virtually created an opportunity for us to stand out as resilient, positive and forward thinking—and it felt like the right thing to do.”
“We knew pausing our internship program, especially in the middle of a pandemic, was not an option,” Council president and CEO Ken Crerar says. “There were hundreds of talented students out there struggling to find meaningful work. We felt strongly that we needed to honor our long-standing commitment to them.”
A member survey revealed that many Council firms also intended to honor their summer internship offers but expressed concern about their ability to provide robust programs while operating in a virtual environment.
How do you create a best-in-class experience with a student potentially hundreds of miles away? How do you encourage your producers to take the time to mentor students over Zoom? How do you keep a steady schedule of work for students during so much chaos and uncertainty with your full-time employees and clients? How do you show you care? There were valid questions.
“About four weeks prior to the start of our internship program, it was clear we were going to have to make a major pivot to pull off our program,” says Sara Klostermann, organizational development manager at Cottingham & Butler in Dubuque, Iowa. “Our team sat down to discuss, and the answer we came up with was actually quite simple. At Cottingham & Butler, we pride ourselves on holding each other to a higher standard, and this would be no different. As a team, we made a promise to 34 interns to help them grow personally and professionally, and that was a promise we were going to keep.”
Borislow Insurance in Massachusetts also pivoted. “As COVID-19 struck we were busily making plans for our summer intern program,” explains Amy Sabato, director of operations at Borislow. “Several members of the leadership team pitched in to mentor the interns. One of our producers hosted a weekly Zoom program called ‘Insurance with the Interns’ that was very popular and helped to expand their industry knowledge while also providing regular interaction as a team. It was team effort.”
InterWest started its program remotely for the first few weeks and gradually opened up its offices with the proper protocols. “The interns became highly skilled at WebEx, video conferencing, and Zoom but really appreciated coming to the office and connecting with others in person, even if it was six feet apart with masks,” Hayes says. “I think one of the biggest challenges was not having ride-alongs to observe client visits and having that windshield time while travelling to talk with their mentors. We made up for it with lots of virtual connection.”
The Council enlisted the help of its millennial and Gen Z staff for ideas on how to address the members’ questions and concerns and supplement their internship efforts. A thread with The Council Foundation, the organization’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was identified.
The Council Foundation’s mission is to recruit and attract the next generation of industry talent. It does this primarily through its annual scholarship program, which provides $5,000 academic awards to college students interning in member firms. Typically, the member firms identify their top interns and nominate them for a scholarship. The ultimate goal, of course, is for the intern to have an exceptional experience, earn the financial aid, and be hired back to his or her sponsor firm after graduation.
Because of the remote nature of most businesses this year, The Council Foundation sweetened the pot.
Without a lot of lead time, the foundation launched its first-ever Aspiring Broker Challenge, a multi-day introductory insurance brokerage and business acumen course for member firms to fold into their own internship offerings. Each intern, regardless of sponsor firm and location, was teamed up with fellow interns across the country and placed in a competitive virtual environment to learn how to operate a successful insurance brokerage.
“We were very pleased with the generous amount of positive feedback on the content and experience—around how the industry works and functions—and how much the students learned in a short period of time,” says Brittany Thune Lindberg, The Council’s vice president of development, who oversees the foundation. Lindberg says the foundation is hoping to continue the Aspiring Broker Challenge, with some tweaks, in 2021.
Students who competed in the Aspiring Broker Challenge were also eligible to earn a Council Foundation scholarship. The 50 scholarship recipients represented 22 majors, underscoring for the students the many backgrounds that can meaningfully contribute to the various aspects of the industry.
Carson Riddle, a student at Culver-Stockton College and intern at Burns & Wilcox, participated in the Aspiring Broker Challenge and earned a Council Foundation scholarship. Riddle says the firm’s clear effort to make his internship, although completely remote, as interactive as possible was evident. “During these crazy times,” he says, “it was very comforting knowing I worked for a company that truly cared about me and was invested in me.”
Foundation scholarship recipient and University of Connecticut student Kallie Goggin says, “I learned all that an insurance agency has to offer and more in just eight short weeks interning at Cross Insurance. From personal lines to commercial, property and casualty coverage to benefits, there are so many opportunities within insurance and working at an agency. Coming into my internship, I had little to no knowledge of what an insurance agency was or did, but now that I have a better idea, I cannot wait to start my career in insurance.”
Samantha Garza, a student at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, says she didn’t know what to expect heading into her internship at Lockton this summer. But she made the most of it, culminating her time there with one of the foundation scholarships. “I was nervous taking on my first internship, especially during COVID-19,” Garza says. “However, I was very pleased with how well the internship program ran and how many opportunities I was presented with. With this scholarship money, I will be able to finish college and focus on building a strong career for myself.”
Summer internships in 2020 may not have looked like tried-and-true blueprints of the past, but the employers who found ways around the uncertainty created by the pandemic say they are better for it.
“For our existing team, the internship brings value from a totally different perspective,” Klostermann says. “We had a great team working together to ensure both the intern class and our current team had a positive experience that allowed everyone to grow as professionals, contribute meaningful work, and build longtime connections. It was a whirlwind of flipping a program 10-plus years in the making into an interactive virtual experience. It wasn’t easy, but I can speak for the team when I say it was definitely worth it.”
Crerar praises The Council’s partnership with its members. “Our members are terrific partners in this collective effort to put our industry on the map for so many talented students who may not otherwise have given it a thought,” he says. “I think it speaks volumes how hard they worked to turn on a dime and create memorable experiences for their students, who may have otherwise been left out of an internship experience. They understand that this is the next generation of industry professionals, and their continued investment can give them a leg up down the road.”
“If I have learned anything from this experience,” says Logan Morehouse, a student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a summer intern at M3 Insurance, “it is that the insurance industry is able to adapt to any situation.”
Click here for a complete list of the 2020 Council Foundation Scholars