65% of insurance companies will hire this year, but internships need improvement

by Caitlin Bronson23 Sep 2015
Demand for talent in the wholesale brokerage community is high. According to a report from industry recruiter The Jacobson Group and sector analyst The Ward Group, 65% of insurance companies are intending to hire this year. If those intentions are carried out, the level of employment in the insurance sector will grow nearly 2%.

Younger employees are especially needed as a significant portion of the industry prepares for retirement, and fortunately, the interest is there – particularly in the surplus lines brokerage space.

“I knew that I wanted to go into the insurance business, but I wasn’t exactly sure which niche I wanted. Then I discovered excess and surplus lines,” said Alyssa Bouchard, 2014 graduate and associate broker with AmWINS. “I was absolutely sold because it’s more challenging and a little more out of the box. It’s got that great entrepreneurial aspect to it.”

Key in Bouchard’s decision was participation in the NAPSLO internship program, where she worked with both an E&S carrier and a wholesale broker. Influential mentors allowed her to do “work of value,” and solidified her intention to enter the industry.

Unfortunately, many interns do not have such a successful experience. Marla Donovan, advisor to the chairman at Burns & Wilcox and mentor in the Kaufman Financial Group’s emerging leaders program, shared three things she feels insurance companies may be doing to drive away potential recruits.

1. Only paying “lip service” to the mentorship concept
When a company does introduces a mentorship program, however loose, mentor volunteers must be prepare d to commit. That means being open to mentee questions and concerns both inside and outside of work, and willingness to let them assist on meaningful projects.

“There has to be transparency and trust there,” Donovan said. “It can’t be lip service. If I say I am your personal mentor, you can call me. You have to be available. You have to treat it as something very important.

“If you’re not prepared to make the commitment, then don’t do it.”

2. Creating a rigid, “report-to-me” structure
Mentors shouldn’t necessarily be direct supervisors. The boss-employee dynamic can sabotage honest dialogue and quickly make things uncomfortable.

Mentor relationships should be less rigid and more of an “informal, dotted-line” agreement. Feel out a good relationship dynamic and open yourself up as a general resource—particularly if you work for a small company and have less free time.

“One size does not fit all,” Donovan stressed.

3. Carrying generational stereotypes into the workplace
Perhaps one of the biggest roadblocks in creating a successful mentorship program within an insurance office is generational gaps. The old notion that you have to “earn your stripes” is still important, but mentors still need to be willing to give new employees a chance to show their worth.

And those stereotypes that 20-somethings have no work ethic? Not true, said Donovan.

“Millennials have work habits—they are just different and in some ways may be far better,” she said. “They have mastered technology and don’t sit there with barriers on what is work and what is life. They could be quoting business to a client under the table.

“Work is almost becoming 18 hours a day, with life mixed in there. Millennials may in fact be the hardest-working generation ever.”