Much has been written in recent months and years about carriers coping with an older workforce retiring. Insurers must devise a plan to both market to and attract this latest generation of workers, all while devising a strategy to retain the knowledge and experience of its exiting employees.

In an effort to gauge how insurers are dealing with the growing shortage of qualified, experienced underwriters, FirstBest Systems Inc., a provider of insurance software solutions to the P&C industry, conducted a survey about training and knowledge sharing during last month’s 2010 NAMIC Commercial Lines Underwriting Seminar, and the results were not encouraging. FirstBest laments the results indicate that few insurers have leveraged technologies that appeal to Generation Y workers, facilitate real-time training and collaboration for new hires and teams and capture underwriting expertise for knowledge-sharing purposes.

The solutions provider points to a 2010 McKinsey report, which found that the number of insurance workers age 55 or older has increased by 74% in the last 10 years, compared to a 45% increase for the overall workforce. This means 20% of the workforce is near retirement, and insurers will need to hire 25,000 new underwriters by 2014. P&C insurers face an uphill battle in attracting high-quality talent, the report says, due to its poor reputation, lack of understanding about career opportunities and a limited pool of trained talent. As the generation gap in the makeup of industry underwriters increases, the report says insurers need to change the ways they capture the experience and best practices of senior underwriters and train junior underwriters.

Addressing these concerns, FirstBest asked the 50 underwriters who attended CTO Julian Pelenur’s 2010 NAMIC presentation,“Bridging the Gap with Collaborative Technology,” to complete a brief, open-ended survey about the talent crisis, staff development and training. The responses show concentrations of challenges, and that most use manual, time-consuming methods for training and knowledge sharing. (Underwriters could cite up to three topical responses per question.)
FirstBest asked attendees about their greatest concern for hiring and training new underwriters in the near term. The most common response, offered by 35% of those surveyed, was “ongoing training, underwriting skills and knowledge sharing.” About 30% cited “finding and attracting qualified applicants” as a concern. “Generational expectations” was a concern for 15% of the underwriters surveyed, while an equal amount felt “employee retention” was among their top challenges.

When FirstBest asked about methods for training and sharing best practices among team members, “meetings” (primarily weekly) were cited by 38% of the respondents and another 38% referenced “ad hoc collaboration and information sharing.” A close third was “ongoing training and personal mentoring,” while 15% reported still using paper-based internal manuals. Only 20% reported using technology, such as instant messaging, Intranets, blogs, or e-mail to collaborate with, and educate underwriters on their teams.

“Our survey findings reveal that Intranets, shared drives and other pre-Web 2.0 technologies are serving as workarounds, and only some carriers are using true Web 2.0, collaborative technologies,” said Pelenur. “Today, P&C carriers need automation, knowledge management and real-time collaboration tools such as screen sharing, alerts, chat and workflow management. A combination of these approaches can transform the underwriting process, and help solve these challenges in a unified, holistic manner. Companies can capture their experienced workers’ valuable knowledge, as well as make the job more exciting and attractive to the younger generation, with a better simplified, automated and modernized process that remains relevant as attitudes and expectations continue to evolve.”

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