To Shrink the Talent Gap, Elevate the Profession

The best way to attract and retain young talent is to focus on the positives that the workers' comp industry has to offer.
By: | May 12, 2016

By the end of 2018, it’s estimated that nearly 25 percent of the insurance industry’s current workforce will have retired. Upwards of 40 percent are expected to retire in the next 10 years — taking their collective knowledge and experience with them.


The industry has been aware of its talent shortfall for a long time. Carrier and brokerage executives spoke openly about the issue at the recent RIMS conference in San Diego. The workers’ compensation community is also feeling that pain, and looking for answers.

A group of industry leaders came together on May 10 to explore both obstacles and solutions during the Out Front Ideas webinar “The Changing Face of Insurance: Talent Attraction, Retention & Training,” hosted by Mark Walls, vice president, Communications & Strategic Analysis with Safety National, and Kimberly George, senior vice president of Corporate Development, M&A and Healthcare at Sedgwick.

A ‘Necessary Evil’

Many of the difficulties in attracting talent are the same as those the industry has always faced, said panelists. People still tend to stumble into insurance and workers’ comp — only a rare few take a direct path into the industry.

The problem is a deeply rooted one. Although it isn’t really a talent problem as much as it is an image problem. Children aren’t raised to be aware of insurance professionals at all, let alone aspire to be them someday. And once they do become aware, the impression they get is rarely good.

Angela Schaefer, vice president, Human Resources & Employee Engagement, Safety National

Angela Schaefer, vice president, Human Resources & Employee Engagement, Safety National

“Oftentimes it is viewed as a necessary evil” rather than a societal good, said Angela Schaefer, vice president of Human Resources & Employee Engagement with Safety National.

That image problem is particularly acute in workers’ comp, said David DePaolo, president of WorkCompCentral. The industry has worked hard to cultivate an image of being tough on fraud, widely publicizing victories against fraudsters in order to discourage other would-be criminals.

As necessary as those tactics may be, they don’t win the industry any points in the recruiting department. Neither does the media’s recent obsession with vilifying the workers’ comp profession as a whole.

And while the image problem is not new, is has grown especially pointed since millennials began entering the workforce. A study by the Pew Research Center in 2010 found that millennials place a higher priority on helping people than having a high-paying career, and numerous other researchers have arrived at the same conclusion — young talent is drawn toward occupations where they feel they can make a difference for their communities.

Helping injured workers get back on their feet is a powerful way to make a difference. But that message isn’t getting across.

“Everything that they’re looking for is available through the insurance industry — they just don’t know it,” said Jessie Gaudio, director of MyPath at The Institutes.

“Let’s not be embarrassed about workers’ comp. When people ask you about [your job], be proud of it — tell them what you do.” — David DePaolo, president, WorkCompCentral

That disconnect is  exactly why all members of the workers’ comp community need to make a conscious effort to put out positive messages about the industry, said panelists, not just at a corporate level but at a personal level too.

“Let’s not be embarrassed about workers’ comp,” said DePaolo. “When people ask you about [your job], be proud of it — tell them what you do. … It’s really all about generating a positive message.”

David DePaolo, president, WorkCompCentral

David DePaolo, president, WorkCompCentral

DePaolo said it’s a useful exercise to develop an elevator pitch that will help explain the positives of what workers’ comp means and what it does.

Walls offered the succinct, “We help people.”

“Workers’ comp has been under the cloud of an inferiority complex,” said DePaolo. “It affects the psyche of everyone in the business and that’s not right.”

College campuses present an important opportunity for professionals to elevate the industry’s image. But that doesn’t just mean just sending out recruiters, said Terri Browne, Chief People Officer at Sedgwick. It means looking for opportunities to have a presence on campus, and to “educate students and faculty about what we do.”

Internships are another way that companies can educate students about the industry. And companies shouldn’t be reluctant to offer internship programs just because they don’t plan to hire from them, said Schaefer. The skills that students stand to gain from internship experiences can help build goodwill, and students are likely to share their positive impressions with their fellow students.

Align Priorities

Attracting young talent is one thing. Keeping it is another. At an executive panel discussion at the recent RIMS conference in San Diego, Steven McGill, group president, Aon plc, noted that 60 percent of those coming into the industry are leaving after two years.

Companies need to take a closer look at whether their company cultures are aligned with the priorities of younger employees, panelists said.

Jessie Gaudio, director of MyPath at The Institutes

Jessie Gaudio, director of MyPath at The Institutes

“Salary doesn’t always rank as the first priority,” said Jessie Gaudio, director of MyPath at The Institutes. “Benefits are key, and work culture and work-life balance.”

Job flexibility is also on the top of the list. “It’s one of the key things we’re asked about,” said Browne, noting that more people are dealing with complex personal issues and family situations than ever before.

“With technology today, it’s easier to [accommodate],” she said.

“We need to start at home,” said Schaefer. That means having an inclusive work environment, and a culture where young talent can contribute in a meaningful way, right from the start. Too often, young employees leave a company because they feel underutilized.

Companies should also consider job rotation as a way to expose people to all of the opportunities available to them, said Schaefer, and support them if they express an interest in switching departments.


Young employees also value training opportunities, and that’s something that has declined over time, said DePaolo. Employers would invest in training people only to have them poached by other companies.

But that training provides value on a broader scale if it helps ensure that the young talent remains in the industry.

“Eventually that training is going to come back,” said DePaolo.

Michelle Kerr is workers' comp editor for Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]