Meeting potential industry employees where they are
Whether your agency has an internship
program in place or is considering launching one,
it can be valuable to understand what students seek in one.
By Grace Grant
Word is getting out that Gen Z’s career expectations have evolved a good deal from their predecessors’, and with a talent crisis continuing to burden the insurance industry, independent agency owners will want to pay attention.
Not only does Gen Z have different expectations when it comes to an insurance career, they also anticipate more when it comes to internships. Not surprisingly, they don’t want to fetch coffee; they want a meaningful experience provided by an employer who will offer challenging opportunities and pathways to growth, and who make their values clear.
The insurance industry has undergone a significant and ongoing rebrand in its effort to attract talent. In 2023, 64% of student respondents to the Gamma Iota Sigma (GIS) Recruiting Survey reported that insurance was not their original career path, compared to 75% in 2022, which demonstrates that more students are finding insurance as a career option.
The insurance industry has made strides in recent years in showcasing the incredible opportunities a career in insurance offers. Colleges and universities are exploring new ways to support students by offering risk management programs that hone in on the nuanced skills they will need to thrive in our industry. And, educational institutions have adopted terminology to include actuarial science and risk management in their insurance programs to account for growing interest from students.
But the support cannot end here. Industry professionals must find ways to nurture these young professionals and their excitement by giving them real-life industry experience, and it all starts with a meaningful internship.
The appeal of (or lack of appeal) with agency life
Unfortunately, when compared to other sectors of the insurance industry, the independent agency lifestyle has proven less appealing to students. According to the GIS survey, less than 10% of respondents said they planned to pursue an agency career.
Students at GIS have shared that independent agencies fail to provide the meaningful internship experiences they are seeking. Moreover, they have shared that independent agency representatives are not a visible presence at career fairs and other recruiting or networking events, so they cannot learn about the agency or internships. As a result, low interest and a poor awareness level exists among students when it comes to the independent agency career path.
Further, students have said independent agency owners and representatives often fail to share a development structure for the agency, leaving a potential career trajectory unclear. Finally, they’ve also noted a lack of diversity within the agency world that is unappealing to them, as well as a reputation for lower pay for internships and entry positions.
For agents, it could be well worth investing in changing this perception. Roughly 55% of students who interned across the industry as a whole said they would be returning to work for the same employer, according to the GIS survey. Those companies are doing something right and now, provided they offered a meaningful internship experience where the student really had an opportunity to learn the ropes, those entry level employees will be able to hit the ground running in their first days.
Upping your internship game
Whether your agency has an internship program in place or is considering launching one, it can be valuable to understand what students seek in one. Once an agency owner understands what Gen Z wants out of an insurance career and/or internship, they can offer meaningful opportunities that will attract top talent.
Agency owners looking to boost their talent pipelines should ask the following questions when creating or implementing an internship program:
How would leaders and our employees describe our company culture? Students prioritize corporate culture when looking for an employer, and an internship will offer them a glimpse. Students today are looking to work collaboratively and want to intern and work for employers who support environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG). Agency employers should make sure their support for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, ESG and giving back to the local community is apparent for interns not only to see, but also support.
Do we provide meaningful work to our interns? This generation is looking for a real job where they can be hands on and learn. Agency owners should consider inviting interns to shadow their agents in conversations with new customers, at renewals, etc. Further, consider giving them opportunities to learn about the business side of operating an agency, as well as carrier and employee relations.
Are our training opportunities clearly enabling employees and candidates to envision a career path? More than 53% of students surveyed said a top internship influencer for them was opportunities for full-time employment or future growth. Agents should provide clear information on training provided, opportunities to apply for additional certifications and more, thus making a career trajectory more transparent.
Is the leadership of our agency willing to contribute their time to mentor? Smaller agencies in particular can be a great place for mentoring opportunities. Agency owners and leadership need to devote the time to support interns, share their acquired knowledge and foster relationships that could encourage a long-time dedicated employee.
Have we embraced technology? Gen Z is tech savvy and they have a perception that insurance, perhaps independent agencies in particular, have been slow to adapt technology. Agents who want to attract top talent should continue to invest in technology and make sure that investment is apparent to candidates and available to use by interns.
Do we pay our interns enough? More than 44% of students polled identified compensation as a chief internship influencer. More than 26% of risk management students polled reported pay of $15 to $20 an hour, while 13% reported pay of $10 to $15. Agency hiring managers should get an idea of a competitive wage for an insurance internship position in their geographic region and make it clear to candidates that the opportunity would be paid and paid fairly.
Once you have developed a comprehensive and challenging internship opportunity, go out and meet these students where they are. Consider attending career fairs and partnering with local universities, or getting involved with your local Gamma Iota Sigma chapter.
By staying quiet, agency owners are missing a valuable opportunity to advance their business and show the next generation—via an inspiring internship—the potential for a rewarding and lucrative career in agency ownership.
Grace Grant, executive director for Gamma Iota Sigma, has more than 15 years of experience in the financial services industry, including 10 years of insurance industry nonprofit leadership. She joined Gamma Iota Sigma in 2013, and championed a significant expansion of the organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy through the establishment of the Gamma Iota Sigma Foundation.