Corporate leaders have long recognized that talent is the most important factor in a company's success.
The insurance industry is no different--yet we haven't done a good job communicating to prospective recruits why the insurance sector is attractive, and one that offers significant opportunity for career advancement and new challenges.
Complicating this scenario are our population's demographics. With the oldest baby boomers hitting age 60 this year, we will start to see more seasoned employees exiting the workforce in the next few years. The insurance industry, with roughly half of its nearly three million employees aged 40 and over, will be impacted disproportionately as this trend emerges.
So--how can we address these issues?
At Fireman's Fund Insurance Company, the biggest challenge we face is recruiting talent into underwriting, loss control, claims, distribution and risk management positions. To help fill these roles, we developed a college associates program, launched in January and now in its second recruiting season--our first class graduated 29 new associates. We recruit new talent directly from the college ranks into specific areas of our business. The idea is to train bright grads who can grow with our organization.
We target large schools across the country--including the University of Southern California, University of California at Irvine, University of Illinois, University of Georgia, University of Maryland and Pace University--that have both diverse academic programs and are close to our metropolitan offices. In addition to grads with degrees in actuarial science and statistics, we also look for candidates with a wide range of majors--political science, business management, marketing, economics and finance.
Our approach is to go through these universities' career centers and academic clubs to advertise our campus "informational sessions." During these presentations, we cover who we are and what we do, and why insurance is a compelling industry for grads. During these sessions, we attempt to break the myth that we are recruiting agents to make cold calls to sell insurance to the public. Rather, the sales aspect we convey is more about relationship building with internal and external customers, providing peace of mind to our customers.
Our recruits are put through a rigorous six-month training program that includes classroom education and time in the field, thereby gaining on-the-job experience and learning from seasoned professionals. After completion, each new associate is assigned to a key position in different regions of the country.
Fireman's Fund sponsors a similar program specifically for actuarial science majors to fill key slots in our risk management group. We believe these two targeted recruitment efforts are important to continually rejuvenating our workforce--attracting younger talent who can build their careers in insurance and help offset those who will begin to retire.
A significant key to the success of these programs is identifying a clear career path that will enable our staff to learn, develop and advance. Generally speaking, our industry needs to make a much more compelling case for the exciting challenges and opportunities the insurance world affords. Insurance can lead to different careers. The insurance industry appeals to those who want either an entrepreneurial or a corporate career track. Choices include working at an independent agency, insurance company or reinsurance firm. Nearly 90 percent of insurance agencies today are privately held--which offers entrepreneurs an unparalleled opportunity.
Conversely, many insurers--like our parent company, Allianz AG--are sophisticated, global enterprises with diverse holdings. These major corporations can offer a multitude of career paths that range from technical experts (e.g., actuaries) to sales professionals. The industry in general is large and dynamic enough to allow its professionals to go back and forth between these areas, thereby allowing its professionals to develop multiple skills and capabilities. Certainly, this is one of our goals at Fireman's Fund--to expose our team to new opportunities in different parts of our business.
Our industry is indeed fortunate to have many talented professionals--and we should rigorously engage in talent management programs to be sure we are developing them for new and important challenges ahead. But we also must make a commitment to recruit outside of our own ranks, seeking out bright, capable men and women to ensure our industry is well staffed with top performers who reflect the diversity of our customers as we face new and complex issues.
Companies that are complacent about talent are those that have the most at risk. As an industry that manages risk, we must manage this issue better than all others.
GARY C. BHOJWANI is president, Commercial Business, at Fireman's Fund Insurance Company.
December 1, 2006
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