College Standouts: Programs
Beyond The Classroom
Industry professionals offer their ideas about what college RMI programs could do to better prepare students for careers in risk management and insurance.
- Lori Chordas
- February 2020
- Survey Says: A Best’s Review survey asked whether students were graduating with the right skills. Most said yes, or somewhat but not enough.
- Learn by Doing: Industry professionals emphasized the need for students to have internships and real-world experience.
- Lesson Plan: Schools also could help students get ahead by offering new approaches to state licenses, professional designations as well as sales training and training on communication and presentation skills.
Aaron Vorce, a 2013 graduate of Olivet College's risk management and insurance program, credits internships with opening up doors for him in the industry, including his current post at Keystone Insurers Group.
Olivet requires at least two internships for graduation. However, Vorce was excited to test drive the skills he learned in college and learn more about what the industry had to offer, so he opted to do three internships at State Farm, All Risks and Hub International.
“It's important for schools to require diversified internships to expose students to different verticals in the industry because you don't know until you know,” he said.
“Seeing different lines like commercial, personal, life and health allows students to choose where they want to be and be more content in their decisions once they graduate.”
Ask insurance industry professionals what schools could do to better prepare young people for careers in insurance and they'll tell you: internships, internships, internships.
Industry professionals clearly see the importance of providing young people with the training and real-world experience that they get from internships.
More than 330 people responded to a recent Best's Review survey about college risk management and insurance programs. Internships were far and away the most popular response to a question asking what schools could be doing better. The respondents repeatedly spoke about the importance of internships and the need for young people to get on-the-job experience.
“Education is good, but experience is key,” one respondent wrote. “If a student can gain experience through an internship or summer job, it prepares them to truly understand what is required in an insurance industry job. Especially if they are going to be working on the agency side.” Other top responses often expanded further on the idea of providing young people with more than just a textbook education. Industry professionals said they want students to gain more real-world experience, to have more realistic expectations about jobs in the industry and to be better able to present themselves and build relationships with clients rather than relying so much on text messages and emails.
“Tamper/manage expectations,” another survey respondent wrote. “You have to start at the bottom building up your base knowledge in order to succeed/progress up the ladder. Recent graduates all have the confidence and expectation that they will jump ahead and be paid a lot more than entry level positions offer.”
Some responses, however, offered up other ideas for college programs. Ideas included different approaches to professional designations, license testing as well as the need to prepare students for a rapidly changing world where new skills may be needed to succeed.
“Perhaps have them take the state license tests so they are better prepared when looking for jobs,” one respondent wrote.
Another had a similar suggestion: “Classes should assist with completing a professional designation for the student's field of interest.”
The focus on college risk management and insurance programs comes as an ongoing retirement wave forces insurers and brokers to seek new talent. The industry has been looking to college RMI programs to help fill the gap.
Only about 15% of industry new hires are coming from the college RMI programs, said Tony Cañas, property/casualty client adviser at insurance staffing agency The Jacobson Group.
Among the 5,300 colleges and universities in the United States, fewer than 100 offer an RMI program, according to the International Risk Management Institute.
While new programs have popped up across the nation in recent years, there still aren't enough programs to help fill the talent gap, especially in certain parts of the country, said Mary Newgard, senior search consultant at Capstone Search Group.
The Best's Review survey asked whether graduates of college RMI programs were coming in with the right skills to succeed. More than 62% said yes, while another 30% said somewhat, but not enough. Only about 8% answered no.
The comments and suggestions from the industry professionals provide a window into what employers want, what schools could still do and where the graduates are still often lacking.
Awareness needs to begin as early as high school or even middle school because by the time students are in their sophomore year of high school many have already decided what major they will pursue.
Margaret Resce Milkint
The Jacobson Group
One of the first challenges is to get students to consider an insurance career.
When Zach Whitmer, a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University, began his freshman year in 2013, he dreamed of one day working in finance. But after taking a few classes in his major, he quickly realized his future career path wasn't what he had hoped and he sat down with his adviser to discuss other options.
“He told me the university offered an RMI program. I had no idea what that was or what it even meant,” Whitmer said. “But I gave it a shot, took a few life insurance courses and then other insurance-related classes that taught me about claims, liability and insurance law.
“I was immediately drawn to the liability lines because I found them to be challenging and was intrigued by the gray area in many of the laws and policy interpretations,” said Whitmer, who is now the risk management specialist at Gray Construction in Lexington, Kentucky.
Temple University and St. John's University have come up with innovative ways to attract students into their RMI programs, including adding the requirement that all business majors take risk management classes, Jacobson's Cañas said.
“As a result, many students end up falling in love with the program and switch their majors,” he said. “That's something many other schools are missing. RMI programs know they should be doing that but it's hard to get college administrators to add that requirement.”
The industry also needs to build awareness before students get to college.
“Awareness needs to begin as early as high school or even middle school because by the time students are in their sophomore year of high school many have already decided what major they will pursue,” said Margaret Resce Milkint, managing partner at The Jacobson Group.
In 2012, Eaton RESA, Olivet College and Farm Bureau Insurance of Michigan partnered to offer an insurance and risk management program for high school students. Students have the opportunity to earn up to nine college credits while completing three courses, along with learning the soft skills needed to be successful in the business environment. Students can also participate in job shadow opportunities at Farm Bureau's corporate headquarters, and based on their performance, participate in a summer employment opportunity at the company, upon completion of the class.
Internships and Real-World Experience
Respondents to the survey repeatedly spoke about the importance of internships and any other program that gets students out of the classroom and into the real world.
Last year more than 57% of graduating seniors who applied for a full time job and received at least one job offer had an internship before graduation, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers' Class of 2019 Student Survey.
Graduates who completed an internship received, on average, 1.17 job offers compared to 0.98 offers for those who did not have an internship, the survey found.
Closely tied to the comments about internships were discussions about real-world experience as a way, not just to learn job skills, but to help set realistic expectations.
Industry professionals suggested schools could bring in guest speakers to help bring the real world to the classroom.
“Offer more guest speakers to provide practical application to classroom learning,” one respondent wrote.
Others spoke about the need to help adjust expectations.
“Do a better job of setting realistic expectations,” one respondent wrote. “Also, this demographic has a very high turnover rate, as young workers continue to 'job hop' at an excessively high rate.”
“Prepare them for the work life culture and how to handle difficult situations that will come up in professional settings,” another said. “Help students have realistic expectations of their career path while also maintaining control.”
Sales Experience/Claims Experience
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates 43,000 jobs will be added in insurance sales alone through 2024, and demand for agents is expected to grow 9% faster than the average of all occupations.
Capstone's Newgard fears not enough is being done to prepare students for agency and broker careers.
She said many programs offer only a handful of classes focused on sales techniques, client prospecting and consulting skills.
Florida State has created an interactive tactic to teach insurance sales to its RMI undergraduates. The university's Insurance Sales Challenge assigns students a business case and mentor and uses role playing to present students' sales pitches to a panel of industry judges.
Respondents recommended that colleges expand the horizons for students and provide sales training and more exposure to agencies and brokers.
“I've always wanted to see some sales training at the college level,” according to one respondent.
“Teach sales and networking skills,” another respondent said.
Communication Skills/Soft Skills
Whenever Jacobson's Milkint visits an actuarial science class or speaks at a Gamma Iota Sigma event, she emphasizes the importance of “human” skills, such as presentation skills, influencing, the ability to think critically, problem solve, negotiate and work collaboratively. She engages students in a hands-on style by looking them directly in the eye, shaking their hands and building their confidence.
She said schools can build on those tactics by arming students with practical tools like business cards “and teaching them how and when to share so they can learn how to build their personal brands, network and forge relationships.”
Keystone's Vorce said there's a growing need for more classes focused on professional and personal development skills.
“One of the most meaningful classes I took at Olivet was a course on emotional intelligence that taught me about people and how to intuitively sense what they're thinking,” he said.
Some comments, however, took a broader view of the industry and the outlook for the future.
Schools should “expand their offerings to reflect the increasing innovation within insurance, which creates demand for new skills, such as data science, risk analysis, tech scouting and more,” said Paul Winston, chief operating officer of IE Advisory and a trustee of Gamma Iota Sigma.
“The majority of insurance and RMI programs remain focused on actuarial science, which while important is not the only talent the industry needs and will need tomorrow.” Winston said.
Another response advises the industry to focus on the value of on-the-job training in the classroom.
“The challenge here is that there is a major shift happening in the industry where many companies are finding ways to cut expenses with use of automation and self-service that is eliminating a lot of the entry-level work that college-hire employees used to learn the role(s). Therefore, the work that staff is now doing tends to be more complex and requires a different level of technical skill that companies frankly are not teaching and students coming in don't have. I think the schools that focus on this industry should look at the roles more like an apprentice in a trade that combines more OJT (on-the-job training) with the classroom.”
What They Said. . . .
Comments from Best's Review's Top College and Risk Management Programs Survey respondents. Following are edited responses.
- Have more opportunities for students to job shadow or internships to fully understand the corporate environment.
- My internship through the insurance program is still evident as I'm still working for the same company today.
- Seek out rotating internships that expose students to various opportunities in the industry.
- Internships/work study so the students get a practical knowledge of how to apply the information and how it is used in the real world.
- I've been graduated for two to three years now, but I wish they pushed internships/co-ops more when I was there. I went out and sought my own internship and it worked out. But it would have been nice to have the department actively seeking opportunities like that for students.
- Continue to require internships for graduation. Perhaps even two. It's critical.
- Set up more mentoring relationships and internships at local insurance offices.
- More internships and mentoring emphasis.
- Partner with firms for internships and mentoring programs.
- Inviting experienced people from all areas of insurance to answer students' questions based on real-life situations.
- More practical experience.
- Offering a course in “real-life” daily issues in the insurance industry. Most schools focus on the academic component, however students need to be better prepared for real-life daily insurance issues.
- Connect with companies to establish strong relationships and encourage them to participate in various programs or one-day events that provide students with knowledge and real-life experience to the company/insurance industry.
- Talking more about what it's like in corporate America and helping prepare students for the shift from college to corporate.
- I believe our community could better assist programs, professors, colleges and universities by coming and speaking to your student population and making them aware of the plethora of opportunities available. Our industry is suffering in finding great talent.
- The schools could do a better job with establishing pipelines into companies in the insurance industry. This can be done by conducting mock interview days, asking industry personnel to speak to their classes, and providing credits toward designations that are respected within the insurance industry.
- Subject them to the sales process of selling insurance so they would learn from the bottom up.
- Increasing their sales acumen. Having them understand the many roles and job functions within an agency.
- Expose them to the selling side of the business, agents, etc. Let them know that underwriting, claims, and IT are not the only parts of the business.
- We need young producers in this industry. So if they can figure out how to groom future producers, that would be a huge win.
- Integrating sales training. Baylor University offers sales courses. If schools don't integrate sales, they will tend to attract strictly underwriter types, so brokers tend not to hire from this major despite the insurance aspect.
- Require agency internships, agencies are left in the dark as graduates are looking for new jobs out of college. Nobody wants to sell and it's causing a massive issue. … If colleges focus on agency education and the money that can be made, freedom, etc., it may help the independent agency system survive.
- Look to direct more kids to the agency side. Heavy placement with carriers and excess &surplus markets.
- Teach them more about the claims process.
- Teach more than one claims class. Insurance is not just selling insurance or underwriting. There is no training for claims. That's likely the toughest part of insurance and the least taught.
- Continue to focus on fundamentals of the industry. Focus on writing skills, critical thinking and analytical acumen. If they are proficient in information technology, they can quickly contribute in the workplace.
- Better in-person and phone communication. Younger generation relies too heavily on email and texting.
- Personal relationships versus email and text conversations.
- Learn to speak and write better.
- Help students learn how to think critically and outside the box. Teach them that during a job interview make eye contact, don't chew gum and dress professionally.
Math and Science
- Include more data scientist programs into the RMI program.
- The students that really stand out have some computer skills, or psychology/anthropology skills. Reinsurance is still largely relationship-based and so the less work I have to do to get someone ready to face clients and maintain relationships the better.