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Business Observer Friday, Nov. 9, 2018 1 month ago

Facing worker shortage, insurance industry turns to young professionals

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Area insurance companies seize solutions — and creativity — to attract and retain talent.
by: Grier Ferguson Staff Writer

Good employees can be hard to find.

That’s why clever employers know to seize any opportunity to find workers — even on a ride from the airport.

Dave Rich is one of those creative bosses, always keeping his eyes and ears open to potential new employees. He’s the CEO of Ensurem, a Clearwater-based company that provides an online platform for information about insurance and sales of insurance products. The company has 40 to 45 employees.

“I hired my Uber driver,” Rich says. “I think I was his first ride.”

The driver picked Rich up at the airport, and it became clear he wasn’t too experienced at the job. So Rich asked him what he used to do. The man told him his background was in web design, and Rich told him to call him the next morning. Ensurem ended up hiring the driver, and he remains at the company today. That hire also had a domino effect on the staff: he’s referred four other people to the company — all millennials.

Insurance companies, from Ensurem to FCCI Insurance Group, are stepping up millennial hiring efforts with a keen sense of urgency and a combination of new and old recruiting tactics, part of an industry-wide trend. Why? Companies big and small, in all kinds of insurance niches and sub-sectors, are facing the reality that the industry's workforce is aging, and they need to bolster the workforce gap with young professionals. 

Two separate recruiting industry studies, for example, one from The Jacobson Group and one from Capstone Search Group came to the same conclusion: up to 25% of the insurance industry's workforce is set to retire in the next 12-18 months. 

Bill Taulbee, president and CEO of Tampa-based Lykes Insurance, sees the trend play out every day, and adds that getting more young workers into insurance is a hot topic. At Lykes, with offices in Fort Myers, Sarasota, Tampa and Winter Park, six out of 16 advisors are millennials, with 65 employees total.

“In our agency, we are very typical,” he says. “The average age of our employees is 48 years old. As much as we want to attract new clients to the agency, we also want to be attractive to younger people who want to come work for the agency. We’re bullish on the millennials, and we’re excited to keep expanding with that group.”

Workforce issue

At Ensurem, Rich says beside himself, at 63 years old, and his COO, who’s in his 50s, most of the company’s employees are in their 20s and 30s. “I’m learning so much from them,” he says. “We’re virtually a millennial shop.”

Employees who fall into older age brackets are mostly in the company’s call center. That’s important, Rich says, for one, because Ensurem needs people with experience selling insurance.

Dave Rich is CEO of Ensurem.

But there’s another side of the company that Rich particularly looked to younger workers to help with. “I have insurance knowledge and contacts, but I needed to build a company that’s familiar with all of the latest technology,” he says. That includes topics such as Google Ads, social media and search engine optimization.

One millennial who’s taken the insurance plunge is Robby Hukill, 28. He became interested in the industry as a student at the University of South Florida. When he took an insurance class, the professor, a former insurance employee, suggested he research a career in insurance. On his list of businesses to research? FCCI Insurance Group, where Hukill has now worked for a little under three years.

“I was looking for something that felt like a family-oriented environment,” says Hukill, who is a commercial lines underwriter. He also wanted to work in a collaborative atmosphere and a company that gives back to the community.

Lisa Krouse, FCCI board member, executive vice president and chief administrative officer, says when the company recently did its 2025 strategic planning, the process drew attention to a startling nugget: seven out of 10 of its employees will be over 50 by 2025.

“We believe our focus on creating opportunities for young professionals is a part of our 2025 strategic plan,” Krouse says. “You’ve got to look ahead on the horizon.”

FCCI has 840 employees. In any given month, the company has 50 open positions it’s trying to fill, says Krouse. Its focus on young professionals aims to meet that need and the need that will arise when older employees start retiring in larger numbers. “We really want to make sure we have a solid pipeline,” Krouse says. “It’s not just FCCI. We are all experiencing that same shift in the insurance industry.”

Recruit now

A key part of building a pipeline into the insurance industry is starting to reach potential workers way before they’re ready for a job.

FCCI employees, for instance, including Hukill, regularly talk to high school and college students about careers in the insurance industry during campus visits and career fairs. “I think insurance is a mislabeled career, and I think there’s kind of that stereotype that it’s boring or for old people,” Hukill says. “They don’t understand what it encompasses. Being younger myself, I feel like I can relate and touch on the topics they’re curious about.”

This summer, FCCI had 24 interns. “When we interview for an intern,” Krouse says, “we interview not just for the summer, but we interview for a permanent teammate in the years ahead.”

Krouse says FCCI looks particularly at people with roots in the Sarasota-Manatee area. “We know they will want to be here for the longer term,” she says.

FCCI also attracts young professionals by focusing on the idea that career potential is important to them. FCCI has a training and development program with opportunities for certifications, tuition reimbursement, technical training and computer training. “It matters to our young professionals who are looking to expand their skills and experiences,” Krouse says.

Coming in as a general business management college graduate, Hukill took advantage of some of those education opportunities during FCCI’s six-to-eight month training program. “There are very few, if any, industries in the business world where a young person has an opportunity to come into the environment and learn from the most experienced people,” he says.

Bill Taulbee is president and CEO of Tampa-based Lykes Insurance.

Lykes also has an education program that includes the agency paying for courses, seminars and designations for employees. “The millennials are really taking advantage of that,” Taulbee says. “They have a thirst for knowledge, and that is something that has benefitted us greatly.”

Another big selling point to draw young professionals into the fold? “We also show them that there is unlimited earning potential in our industry,” Taulbee says.

Lykes’ compensation plan includes paying employees a salary along with a commission. “It takes a good three years for a new employee or a new advisor to really see and realize success,” Taulbee says. “Over time, as their book of business increases, their salary will decrease. We’re flexible with that.”

The agency recruits college graduates from insurance programs plus people who have worked in other industries, including banking, technology, professional employer organizations and other sales-based organizations.

The work environment itself also helps with recruitment. “I think we have to appeal to what drives and motivates young people these days,” Taulbee says. “From what we understand and see, it’s a culture and an environment of teamwork and of collaboration.”

Future retention 

Ensurem, meanwhile, for the most part hasn’t struggled with retaining its younger employees, Rich says. Like  Taulbee, he thinks that’s because of the company’s culture. “We work hard but we have fun,” he says. “I’m down there all the time with the agents. We’re joking and we’re laughing. You just treat them the right way and they’ll stay.”

The company has nontraditional work hours — a perk with appeal among millennials. What’s important, Rich says, is not the specific hours worked but that employees get the work done. “Some of our technologists will work all night long,” he says. “We provide an atmosphere here that is very casual.” In the office, there’s a Zen room and a break room with video games and Bean Bag chairs.

“The tough part is the stereotype of insurance, but once you break through that, you see people light up when they hear about opportunities here.”

— Robby Hukill, commercial lines underwriter, FCCI Insurance Group

At FCCI, there’s an on-campus workout facility with fitness classes. The company also has a massage therapist and personal trainer available. (Benefits that could appeal to employees of any age.) 

Beyond physical trappings, a company hiring millennials has to know how the generation is different, Rich says. “If you understand that and create an environment around that, they will gravitate toward that, but you have to do it honestly,” he says. “If you listen to them and make them feel like they’re part of the solution and part of the plan, they’re excited about what they’re building.”

To foster connectedness of young workers at FCCI, there’s even a young professionals group. It currently has some 60 members. The group hosts networking events, social activities, learning opportunities and events such as Jenga and dodgeball tournaments to raise money for charity. “There’s always something going on,” Krouse says. “They tell us, ‘This is what we’d like to do,’ and we’re like, ‘Go for it. Great. Dodgeball? Heck yes!’ And everybody watches and supports them.”

Hukill says FCCI’s effort to attract young professionals is growing. “The company is very focused on it,” he says. “The tough part is the stereotype of insurance, but once you break through that, you see people light up when they hear about opportunities here.”

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