February 6, 2018
Time to Formalize Insurance Career Path
To encourage new ideas and attract talented people, the insurance industry must have an educational program for newcomers.
An industry cannot thrive without new ideas and talented people to lead it into the future. That’s why I believe there must be an educational program for individuals entering the insurance business.
It has become increasingly evident over the past several years that we’re confronting the twin problems of an aging workforce and a dearth of new professionals. It’s crucial for industry veterans and leaders to elevate and accelerate this conversation.
We must advocate for and help build academic programs, apprenticeships and on-the-job training opportunities that lay the foundation for success — as well as continue to teach insurance professionals throughout their careers. It’s up to us to shape a more vibrant future.
It’s common for aspiring professionals to graduate from business school and then be left to fend for themselves when it comes to getting licensed and starting work. This limited training rarely teaches students the range of theories, skills and legal requirements necessary to understand such a technical industry.
Institutions like the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Georgia offer an emphasis in risk management, but it only accounts for a handful of classes in a general MBA program. I’d like to see more colleges and universities create programs focused on risk management alone.
Insurance experts can help academics design curricula explaining the richness and variety of the industry. The career can encompass many specializations, from sales agent to claims manager and underwriter to evaluation specialist. Students should be exposed to these exciting career possibilities.
See also: 4 Keys to Charting Your Career
Academic institutions are beginning to shift in the right direction. In 2006, 58 risk management degree programs prepared 1,562 graduates to become insurance specialists. That number climbed to 112 programs with 1,870 graduates by 2010.
Despite that rise, the programs still account for only a fraction of the more than 4,600 degree-granting post-secondary institutions in the U.S. that enroll more than 20 million students. We can do better. Our focus should be on building more academic programs to attract more students and better preparing them to join our ranks.
To best equip students, it’s imperative that we augment classroom learning with apprenticeships and on-the-job training. Even after 44 years in the industry, I still learn something every day. Every time I reach a career milestone, I’m reminded of how wrong I was to think that at year five or year 10 — or even year 20 — I knew all there was to know about the industry.
By offering apprenticeships, insurance companies can provide students and new graduates with an invaluable learning environment. This learning shouldn’t stop after the first couple of years on the job, either; we should design early- and mid-career training courses to keep our colleagues engaged and to reward the dedication of not only the students, but also the instructors.
The average age of an insurance agent in the U.S. is 59, and a quarter of the industry’s workforce is expected to retire by the end of this year. It’s imperative that these industry mainstays pass their valuable institutional knowledge along to students and colleagues with less experience.
Only 4 percent of millennials view the insurance industry as a potential career choice. Young professionals harbor the opinion that the insurance industry is inherently boring. If such a small fraction might consider insurance for a career, how is it possible to combat the stereotype that the industry is boring without established educational programs?
Therein lies our challenge: It’s up to those of us in high-level positions to forge a more formal career path and teach the next generation how fulfilling the insurance industry can be.
There are some instances in which the industry excels at recruiting and retaining young professionals. Agents under age 40, or with less than five years of experience, can join the Young Agents program — a section of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America. The program allows members to connect with various professionals, attend conferences and access helpful resources. Young Agents furthers early-career employees’ engagement and illustrates the many avenues for advancement and success in the industry.
But we still need an unwavering commitment to comprehensive education. Insurance companies have to prioritize and invest in academic programs that maximize students’ knowledge — and employee retention.
Our industry is about ensuring the health, happiness and dreams of individuals. When we join the insurance industry, we inherit the responsibility of protecting what people value most. No amount of time in the industry can allow us to take that responsibility lightly.
We must look beyond the sense of duty we might feel toward our current clients and begin preparing the agents who will come after us. Only then will they be able to reliably and proficiently serve our future clients.
It’s up to our industry to train, educate and provide experience and teachable moments to foster the growth of new graduates and transform them into well-trained agents. We must help our colleagues attain their hopes and dreams, too.