Jamie Rodgers is looking forward to her first risk management course at Temple University’s Fox School of Business this spring semester. Up until now, her education about the profession has come from two sources. One is a friend who is majoring in the field. The other is “The Real Housewives of Orange County.”

FAST FOCUS

• The Institutes is leading a new initiative designed to entice college-age millennials into careers in insurance and risk management.

• Studies find most of the 77 million-member generation know little about the industry.

• Estimates show at least 430,000 insurance jobs will need to be filled between 2012 and 2022.

The 21-year-old business major says one of the reality TV show’s stars, Vicki Gunvalson, founded an independent insurance agency in California. Until she encountered Gunvalson on her television screen, Rodgers had never considered pursuing a career in the insurance industry.

“I didn’t know that was a thing,” says Rodgers, a junior from Souderton, Pa. “I still don’t know exactly what it is. I feel like marketing, accounting, are very clear-cut. Insurance—I really have no clue.”

And she’s pretty sure she isn’t alone.

“People my age don’t want to think about insurance,” she says. “They think of it as a boring, blah thing.”

Insurance has long been misunderstood, and in general it still lacks widespread awareness. That continues to be the case with the millennial generation, the 18-to-33 cohort whose more than 77 million members outnumber the baby boomer generation at its peak, according to the Pew Research Center.

“They don’t know about us,” says Albert “Skip” Counselman, chairman and CEO of RCM&D, a risk management, insurance and benefits advisory firm based in Baltimore. “Part of it is we haven’t marketed ourselves. We haven’t told our story. If we haven’t told our story, why should we expect people to know about us?”

With that challenge in mind, dozens of organizations collaborated to officially launch a new initiative aimed at educating—and maybe enticing—a new generation of professionals about the rich potential of insurance and risk management careers. Called MyPath, the effort is being led by The Institutes and its affiliates, in partnership with more than 40 large and small organizations spanning the spectrum of the industry, including Arthur J. Gallagher & Company, Lockton Companies, Marsh, Munich Re, USAA, Allstate and many more. It intends to be the most comprehensive effort of its kind, aggregating internships, explaining career roles, demystifying the concept of insurance, acting as a clearinghouse for other recruitment initiatives and serving as a unified voice for the profession. The goal is to build a larger and more reliable pool of qualified candidates for our industry, as demographic changes will make it challenging for companies to attract the level of talent they need over the next decade.

While many industries face similar challenges, the situation in insurance is particularly acute. Insurance and risk management are little known among the generation that will need to become the leaders in the industry.

Numbers Crunch

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.6 million people in the United States work in the insurance field. The median age of the workforce is about 45, several years older than the median for workers across all industries and about a decade older than the average American.

I feel like marketing, accounting, are very clear-cut. Insurance—I really have no clue.

Given those statistics, the industry will need to fill at least 430,000 jobs between 2012 and 2022, nearly a quarter of them agent and broker positions. Meanwhile, many insurance careers are growing in complexity, making it increasingly difficult to find, attract and retain talented workers, especially as insurance competes with other, better-known industries. The nation’s risk management and insurance programs produce highly qualified candidates to fill these ranks but nowhere near the number needed.

“The lack of a steady talent pipeline for our industry represents an enterprise risk, pure and simple,” says Wade Reece, chairman and CEO of BB&T Insurance Holdings. “It’s also a risk that’s too widespread for any one entity to fully address on its own, because ensuring that we can attract and recruit the most qualified candidates will require a shift in how society at large views our profession.”

Getting with the Program

Stakeholders predicted these impending issues years ago. In 2011, more than 100 professionals, academics and leaders traveled to Atlanta for The Griffith Insurance Education Foundation’s Insurance Education Summit to discuss these barriers and, more importantly, how to address them. Because The Institutes already serves an educational mission, attendees called on us and our affiliates—including The Griffith Foundation—to spearhead the effort the group outlined.

The first phase focused on researching millennial attitudes toward insurance, both by compiling existing research and conducting our own surveys and focus groups. In 2012, The Institutes and Griffith conducted a survey that found 80% of millennials were unfamiliar with the industry and fewer than 10% were very interested in it as a career.

Yet when students in the same survey were asked what job attributes they value, they listed many of the attributes most insurance professionals say align well with our industry: stability, flexibility, mobility and the ability to make a difference in people’s lives. The top attribute students selected was salary—something brokers and producers would not be shy to say is an exciting feature of their positions. In analyzing the results, it became clear that millennials simply don’t know much about our industry. It was up to us to change that.

In 2013, we also conducted focus groups that found similar results but further illuminated specific perceptions. In that research, a majority of participants said they perceived insurance as a stable sector that is essential to business, but only 30% thought it was trustworthy and reliable. Similarly, this research found a general awareness of our industry providing opportunities for growth and salary advancement. Only a third agreed there are diverse opportunities in the field.    

While this research validated concerns throughout the industry, it also provided an outline to effectively tell the story of insurance and risk management for a new generation.

This groundwork served as the foundation for MyPath. The name itself reflects two key elements of our effort: acknowledging that members of this new generation want to choose their own paths in their careers and their lives and highlighting the diverse career paths in the insurance and risk management fields. MyPath and the corresponding tagline—“Insurance. It’s Limitless.”—reflects the core mission of the effort.

The website, launched in 2014, contains hundreds of internships across the United States in a variety of career roles. It also includes information about the industry, job role details, a tool to help users choose a career based on their interests and background and videos compiled from our partners and from around the Web. This year we plan to roll out more features, grow our audience on social channels and increase brand awareness through targeted advertising campaigns.

Show, Don’t Tell

Brad Hamilton changed majors a couple times as an undergraduate at the University of Georgia. He started in criminal justice and considered accounting before finding himself pursuing a risk management and insurance (RMI) degree.

If we haven’t told our story, why should we expect people to know about us?

“I had no idea about insurance at first,” the 25-year-old says, “but I had heard that everyone had a job when they graduated.”

Hamilton quickly found a job as well, and he’s now a claims specialist at Liberty Mutual in Orlando.

“One of the biggest things I learned was about the number of opportunities,” he says. “I didn’t know anything about this when I was in school. I had no idea it even existed. There are so many opportunities and directions you can go in.”

Many other young people who have found their own paths in the insurance field have similarly become advocates for the industry, like Jonathan Blount, a senior RMI major at Eastern Kentucky University. Blount recently interned at Lloyd’s of London, and on campus he is president of his social fraternity. He was also voted Homecoming King this past fall. (“Great publicity for the RMI program,” he says.)

Blount says he’s been able to recruit many of his fraternity brothers to the major, often telling them about the ample opportunities available.

“I definitely have a lot of people who ask me what I really do and want to do, and they want to understand, but they don’t understand it fully,” says Blount, who aims to become a producer after graduation. “That just provides me an opportunity to explain.”

Telling these stories can be a powerful tool, and MyPath is always seeking testimonials, but we believe showing is always more powerful than telling. That’s why a core part of MyPath is not only aggregating internships from throughout the insurance industry but also recruiting partners and encouraging more organizations to offer internships so that anyone who is interested can explore the career firsthand.

After all, about 42% of new hires across all industries result from internship programs, says the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The rate is even higher among agents and brokers. More than half of successful young producers surveyed in Reagan Consulting’s 2009 Young Producer Study said they came to their positions via internships.

Dan Carmichael, chairman of Platinum Underwriters, was chairman of The Institutes’ board of trustees from 2008 to 2010. During that time, he visited college campuses to talk to professors about how to help students. The trustees were offering scholarships through The Griffith Insurance Education Foundation and CPCU-Loman Education Foundation, but not all the money was being used.

“Professors said, ‘We don’t need scholarships, we need internships. That’s how our students are going to find out about the jobs they like or don’t like,’” Carmichael says.

I had no idea about insurance at first, but I had heard that everyone had a job when they graduated.

Reece says he’s confident, if more young people just get the chance to see what insurance careers offer, they’ll like what they see.

“The insurance story sells itself,” Reece says. “If you just ask people in the field, you see how it presents a limitless range of opportunities, especially considering that it’s changing all the time. We only need to spread that story.”

Tell All

Ultimately, it’s a big story to spread, and it needs to be understood and experienced by a large group of people. MyPath is undoubtedly a long-term project, and its success will assuredly be contingent upon involvement within the industry. With more partners and contributors participating in the effort, the initiative can provide more opportunities to students.

“We need to change the brand so we aren’t thought of as dullards and white-shoe sales people,” Carmichael says. “We’re much more than that. But it’s going to take more than one company. The image of the industry overall needs to be something we tackle overall.”

“If we can tell our story through a coordinated program, like MyPath,” Counselman says, “it will have a great impact on the next generation.”

There is also no shortage of individual stories to tell about the doors insurance has opened. For Carmichael, his career allowed him to choose practically any location in the country to raise his family because he could find high-quality opportunities wherever he wanted to settle. He also transitioned between a variety of job roles throughout his career, allowing him to learn a variety of skills and constantly exposing him to new experiences.

“There are literally jobs in every state, and good jobs,” he says.

Counselman marvels at how his insurance career has allowed him to travel the world. He specifically remembers first visiting Bermuda in 1972 during his time in the U.S. Navy and not knowing then that insurance would lead him back there many years later.

“I said, ‘I want to find a way to come back to this place on a regular basis,’” he remembers. “When I found out that the captive industry is active in Bermuda, I said, ‘I’m going to specialize in captives.’”

Jamie Rodgers chose to enroll in a risk management course at Temple after hearing about it from a friend who is an RMI major. Despite Rodgers’ initial negative perception of the field, she says her fun and outgoing friend changed her mind about the type of people who pursue insurance careers.

“Even after she explained it, I don’t quite grasp it,” Rodgers says, “but I’m a huge people person, and if that’s a huge plus in insurance, then I would want to consider that, too.”