Hartford, Conn. is known as the world’s insurance capital, but the city and region also struggle with poverty and educational achievement. The average Hartford family’s income is lower than all but three U.S. cities of similar size, and the city school district is in the midst of a several-year-long effort to raise the high school graduation rate (it was 71% in 2014 vs. 29% eight years ago).

Travelers, the largest of the insurance companies that call Hartford home, decided that it could make a difference in the lives of members of its community at the same time it wanted to raise the profile of the company and the insurance industry. The insurer started the Travelers EDGE program in 2007 with several colleges in the Hartford region – as well as other places it has significant corporate presence like St. Paul, Minn.; and Baltimore, Md. – with the goal of building a more diverse talent pool for the company.

“It’s not just an internship or just scholarship,” says Marlene Ibsen, president and CEO of the Travelers Foundation and VP of community relations for the insurer. Rather, she explains, it’s a mixture of both:  “We wanted to create something that had a much more holistic approach to make sure that students really understood the opportunities in this industry.”

Students from economic or demographic backgrounds that are traditionally underserved are exposed to opportunities with Travelers through professional development programming , academic support, academic plans, mentoring support, professional development, job shadows and more. Participating four-year colleges include Central Connecticut State University, Morgan State, and Metropolitan State University.

And increasingly the opportunities come in technology, Ibsen says. Since the program began, 141 students have graduated with a bachelor’s degree, and about half of them have been hired by Travelers. Of those, one in five is working explicitly with IT, and the rest are spread among finance, underwriting, actuarial, marketing, operations, and more.

[Read more about Why The Biggest Insurers Are Going Back to School for tech talent]

Technology “has been one of our areas of interest. It is an ongoing area of hiring for the company,” Ibsen says.

EDGE students are also eligible to work on Travelers EDGE Ventures, “where a group of students will be asked to come together to work on a business problem related to Travelers, spending a semester with academic guidance and volunteers from our own business areas. It’s like a consulting project,” Ibsen says.

Or, Travelers will team its students with nonprofits in the area to help the organization work on its own business problem “while making sure they’re thinking mostly about the risk aspects,” she adds.

Travelers also is exploring reaching back further into students’ education to expose them even earlier to the industry, and even the benefits of a bachelor’s degree overall.

“It’s as early as middle school but usually high school,” Ibsen says. “They hear ‘insurance’ and it brings all sorts of things to mind. We want to tell them why a bachelor’s degree, why the insurance industry and what kind of jobs.”

[INN profiles university partnerships with MassMutual and Nationwide]

The initiative is fully funded by Travelers at the moment, but Ibsen says the company is open to working with representatives from other companies who want to help them or try to replicate the model.

“At the end of the day we do have a limit to our resources, with tuitions going up and other factors, so we could gain efficiency of scale,” she says. “It is a huge investment of people & financial resources that we haven’t seen others really jumping on quite yet.”

Because the goal of training insurance-industry-ready employees is universal, Ibsen says Travelers is even willing to work with other insurers. “We might find it a little challenging if and when it happens, but ultimately this is a net benefit for the industry,” she says. “The industry itself is going to face some hiring challenges in the future, while this is a program that we’ve put a lot of resource into, we think it’s been a really powerful generator. Most of us have offices around the country” so there is plenty of room to spread the wealth of new, diverse applicants, she says.

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