Anybody connected to insurance knows about the industry’s looming “brain drain”: Skilled baby boomers are beginning to retire, and there is not enough interest among younger workers to replace the number of bodies expected to exit the industry, let alone the knowledge and expertise those people take with them. As well known as the problem is, though, and for as long as it’s been discussed at industry gatherings and in the trade press, solutions remain elusive.
Some organizations, like Gallagher Bassett and its parent company, Arthur J. Gallagher, have, for years, had internship programs and have used those programs to not only complete tasks to free up full-time workers, but also to promote the industry’s positive and appealing aspects to a new generation of workers. For Gallagher Bassett, the idea is to reveal to young talent all that the industry has to offer, and to engage interns with meaningful work that is intellectually challenging and valuable to the success of the firm.
Of course, providing such an immersive experience requires interns who are dedicated and motivated enough to fully take advantage of it. And that’s where CLM’s internship program comes in, matching promising college juniors and seniors with insurers and third-party administrators for an eight-week paid internship.
“CLM does a great job of pre-screening a lot of these individuals to make sure they have the understanding and skill set to be able to be successful in this type of internship,” says Bronwyn Kossman, branch manager at Gallagher Bassett’s Rolling Meadows, Illinois office, which is hosting two of CLM’s 2018 interns (other CLM interns are also working at Gallagher Bassett, but at different locations).
Kossman, who has been involved with Gallagher Bassett’s claims internship program since it began in 2013, says CLM has a lot of pathways into colleges, which provide companies like Gallagher Bassett access to qualified students who might not otherwise hear about industry internship opportunities. She also says the CLM pre-screening process allows her to have more focused interviews with candidates by the time they get to her.
Gregory McKenna, senior vice president, external affairs for Gallagher Bassett, adds that the CLM program also provides extra incentive for students to take the internship seriously and perform at a high level. “The individual is now looking to do well by two organizations,” McKenna says. “They’re looking to be evaluated, perform well, and do right by the CLM folks who helped them come in, and then also do right by the end employer, Gallagher Bassett. So we appreciate that.”
Kossman also points out that when a candidate is selected for the CLM internship program, CLM ensures that the intern earns the relevant adjuster licenses. For Kossman’s Rolling Meadows office, for example, “interns get their adjuster licenses for Indiana, which is really important if they are looking to get into this industry when they get out of college. A lot of licenses are required in order to be able to handle claims. CLM is getting the interns their licenses right off the bat, which makes them much more marketable and hirable when they get out of school.”
That’s a benefit not only for the interns, but also for the firms with which they intern. “It adds just another level of seriousness that these individuals approach the internship with,” says McKenna. “It’s different than just finding someone coming in fresh.”
Having access to the pipeline of committed students the CLM program provides is important to a firm like Gallagher Bassett because of what it hopes to achieve in its own internship program: Educating younger professionals about what a career in the insurance industry can offer them. Kossman says while her focus is on interns in the claims department, she exposes them to other areas, such as working with the finance department or setting up meetings with the sales group. “As the program has gone on over the last five years, the company as a whole has tried to find ways to integrate the experience,” Kossman says.
McKenna says the program also aspires to help interns see beyond the industry’s more mundane tasks. “Those things still need to be done,” he notes, “but if you can connect the interns with a higher purpose, and you can connect them intellectually with why those tasks need to be done, you are tapping into the desire of aspiring young professionals to really understand the business, and that’s how we’re trying to structure the internship program and the way we try to attract new talent.”
The approach is making an impression on the interns selected for CLM’s 2018 program. Interns Veronica Glowacki and Alexander Woods both spoke about the autonomy they have had so far at Gallagher Bassett, and about everything they have learned as far as how the industry works and where they might fit into it in the future. “I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about myself and how I work with certain tasks, and I have learned more about the insurance/claims field and how it could be a potential career path for me,” says Woods.
Glowacki says the exposure to workers compensation and the claims process has been especially valuable. She also speaks highly of Gallagher Bassett’s commitment to the program and the interns. “The first week I was here, we had a nationwide internship orientation,” she says, during which she was able to network with executives and interns and hear speeches from, among others, the CEO, people she says she did not expect to hear from. “That really shocked me, just how much they invested in their interns. It showed that they really wanted us to succeed and learn as much as we could.”
Learning, though, is a two-way street, and as much as the interns are learning from their experiences with Gallagher Bassett and CLM, they also have some things to teach the industry. Kossman says that for the past couple of years, the interns have met in groups and made presentations in front of Gallagher Bassett vice presidents on how they believe the company can be improved—ideas that the firm has been happy to incorporate.
The interns also have advice for how the industry can better connect with college students and young professionals to promote careers. “One of the ways that the industry can bridge the divide [with the younger generation of workers] is to partner with the places that young people are—mainly the colleges that they are attending,” says Woods. “Form partnerships with the student clubs and organizations on campuses to show them that you are open to hiring the younger generation and that you are looking for fresh, new talent. There is no harm in being genuine about who you want and bringing exposure to that.”
Woods and another intern, Kiarah Smith, both said one perception they had about the insurance industry before their internships was that it was a complicated industry that was too difficult to break into. Smith says, “Initially, I had this preconceived notion that working in the insurance industry would be a fast-paced and stressful environment, when in reality it’s actually a lot more relaxed than I expected.”
Smith adds, “I definitely think the biggest issue is that a lot of younger people are not taught anything insurance- or claims-related throughout high school. Because of that, it becomes this big scary concept that nobody wants to go near. Although I ended up having a pleasant experience, I personally would have felt a lot more confident and comfortable coming in with more previous knowledge about the insurance industry.
“While the industry has no real control over what is taught in schools, I think it would be a great idea to put on assemblies at local high schools, informing students a little bit about the industry and how it works, that way they are aware this field is even an option to begin with. Having some background knowledge or even being provided knowledge on what a career in the insurance industry would entail, would make the field a lot more accessible and appealing for younger people.”