Risk Insider: Mary Ann Cook

Exceeding Expectations

By: | January 16, 2018 • 2 min read
Mary Ann Cook is SVP of Knowledge Resources and Content Development for The Institutes. Her team designs the curriculum that guides many of The Institutes’ designation programs and custom products. She writes about and presents on a variety of topics including insurance coverages and the agent and broker marketplace. She can be reached at [email protected]

The risk management and insurance (RMI) industry has been talking about it for years: there simply are too few qualified college graduates to fill job openings.

Employers spend considerable resources on recruitment, only to settle on new hires who have some industry knowledge and experience but are often unprepared for the day-to-day work the positions require. Employers get stuck in a cycle of excessive (and expensive) onboarding and immediate training to get young employees up to speed.


Students at most universities today feel the pull between scholarly learning and gaining on-the-job skills to land positions and pay off student loans after graduation. While universities have made efforts to prepare graduates for the working world, business graduates, even those with RMI degrees, don’t always know what employers’ expectations will be.

That’s where we, as an industry, must come in. We’ve already made strides. Today, RMI students at nearly 60 schools can take college courses providing partial credit toward the Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU®) designation through The Institutes’ Collegiate Studies for CPCU program, which embeds key industry learning into class curriculum.

Insurance organizations are driving outreach efforts too. Many employers partner with groups like MyPath and Gamma Iota Sigma (GIS) to provide background about the insurance business and put students and recent grads on a sound career path.

Faculty can bring in insurance industry employees to expand the discussion beyond “Here’s what I do” to include “Here’s what we need you to do.”

But the lingering gap between open positions and work-ready graduates is a clear sign greater collaboration between employers and universities is needed.

Apprenticeships, essentially internships updated for today’s job market, are one growing way to forge connections between industry and academia. Employers play a significant role designing the curriculum, supported by colleges. Student apprentices are paid for their work and are guaranteed a job after graduation.

Faculty can build on partnerships in the classroom, typically by bringing in insurance industry employees and ensuring they expand the discussion beyond “Here’s what I do” to include “Here’s what we need you to do.”

Additionally, faculty and industry can partner in research projects to enhance understanding of the business environment and how colleges and universities can work with employers to better meet those needs.

But acquiring new knowledge must continue once an employee starts on the job. Employers that continue to develop the skills of the employees they recruited will see greater loyalty and that culture of learning will result in more innovation and happier teams.


Of course, this training should be tied to strategic objectives with demonstrable results. But organizations can start with informal initiatives, such as lunch-and-learn sessions, which get employees excited about sharing knowledge and learning new things.

Being motivated by learning is one of the great thrills and privileges of a college education. As an industry, it’s our job to foster that enthusiasm in our students and future leaders while providing a framework to help them learn the skills they’ll need to be successful risk and insurance professionals.

If we can do that, there’s no doubt we’ll all benefit from a return on that investment through their continued engagement and commitment.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]