Applied, IBAO, and Humber College tackle the insurance talent gap

SVP shares thoughts on nurturing the next generation of brokers

Applied, IBAO, and Humber College tackle the insurance talent gap

Diversity & Inclusion

By Gia Snape

The war for talent, an aging and retiring workforce, and the pandemic-driven “Great Resignation” are all factors contributing to the insurance industry’s current labour woes. But Steve Whitelaw (pictured), senior vice president and general manager of Applied Systems Canada, said signs of trouble on the talent front were clear long before COVID-19.

“Even before the pandemic hit, we saw a demographic shift starting inside the insurance industry,” said Whitelaw. That shift, he said, was happening across all sectors of the economy as baby boomers began to enter their retirement years.

But another change occurred post-pandemic when people drastically changed their career and work-life balance views. The collective mindset shift triggered an exodus of workers, exacerbating the challenge for insurance companies to attract and retain talent.

“Insurance is a service industry but also a knowledge-based industry. When a skilled underwriter, claims professional, or business development executive leaves the insurance industry, it takes time to hire someone new and have that knowledge transferred to them,” Whitelaw said. “We need to fill those gaps as quickly as possible to transfer that knowledge to the next generation of insurance professionals. We need to get talent into our industry.”

To address the talent crisis, Applied Systems Canada teamed up with Humber College and the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario (IBAO) to develop an insurance management program. The seven-week course introduces broker technology to students, equipping them with hands-on experience to complement the theory they traditionally learn through the course curriculum.

Technology-centred learning

Students are gaining the skills and knowledge needed for a career in insurance through programs offered by educational institutions. But Whitelaw said they saw an opportunity to create a specialised program that could produce graduates ready for the highly technical aspects of insurance brokering.

“Technology enables the professionalism and service we deliver in insurance. I thought it was important to bring students the tools used in our industry, especially within the broker distribution channel,” explained Whitelaw.

“The partnership with Humber made a lot of sense because we could equip candidates with a working knowledge of the tools and systems they would be using if they chose to enter the broker channel as a career.”

Applied Systems produces some of the most widely used insurance technologies worldwide. Students learn the Applied Epic, Applied Rating Services, and Applied Commercial Lines platforms within Humber College’s one-year insurance management - property and casualty graduate certificate program.

A strong rationale for the program’s existence is streamlining the onboarding experience for new brokers as the industry accelerates its digital transformation. “How can we get students ready for day one on the job so that when they graduate, they’ve got the advantage of having [Applied Systems experience] on their resume?” Whitelaw asked.

A broker advisory committee composed of insurance professionals provides insights into how brokerages use Applied technology and what prospective brokers need to learn to succeed. Additionally, students give feedback that helps Applied Systems, Humber College, and IBAO further refine the course to set up future candidates for success.

“The feedback that we’ve gotten from the students, as well as their employers, is how nice it is when [the students] can come in and know how to log onto a system or quickly get on a phone queue and respond to a consumer who’s asking for a quote on a new home they’ve purchased,” said Whitelaw.

A leg-up for the next generation

Employers also play a significant role in getting new talent to thrive. Whitelaw’s advice for insurance companies welcoming young talent? Listen to them. “I think people new to the industry have great ideas and aren’t bound by the old way of doing things,” he told Insurance Business.

“Engage with them to understand their ideas and weigh the merits of what they may be bringing forward. Likely, you can improve what you’re doing while they are onboarding.

“We always talk about how it’s the customers’ needs we’re trying to meet, but part of what makes a consumer happy is working with a happy employee. We need to do everything we can to ensure the onboarding experience is positive,” Whitelaw added.

One way to create a fulfilling onboarding experience is reverse mentoring: when seasoned professionals foster a one-on-one relationship with younger employees where both parties learn from each other rather than focusing on the superior-subordinate dynamic.

“I like that everyone comes to the table with different life experiences and perspectives. That diversity of experience and thought is critical to bring forward,” shared Whitelaw. “When you do, it engages people and makes them feel a part of the team. You’ll have a much better experience for the employee and the customer.”

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