There’s an ongoing mismatch taking place across the insurance industry. IT budgets are rising – but companies are still starving for talent that can help them transition to the digital era. A recent PwC survey found that 70 percent of insurance CEOs say skills shortages are inhibiting their companies’ growth.

The other side of the challenge is that insurance companies are competing with many tech companies – the Googles, Apples and Amazons of the world – as well as countless startups. The challenge for insurance IT managers is to sell their workplaces and companies as cutting-edge opportunities for IT professionals – in the face of perceptual issues as the insurance industry being staid and conservative. (We know this is no longer true, given the acceleration to digital and insurtech, discussed here at INN.)

In a recent examination of the challenge with IT skills shortages, researchers with Harvard Business Review Analytics spoke to a number of IT leaders across various industries about their approaches to attracting and retaining the skills they need to move forward.

Whether it’s finding qualified data scientists or preventing their best engineers from being poached, all CIOs are facing their own talent struggles,” said Jim Whitehurst, president and Chief Executive Officer of Red Hat, which sponsored the study. “The IT talent war has emerged as a defining factor in a CIO’s ability to achieve business goals. It’s a challenge that spares no industry, and overcoming it will separate winners from losers.”

Skills areas where shortages are being felt most acutely include Big data/analytics Project management Business analysis Development Enterprise architecture Change management and mobile solutions, the report’s authors state.

The keys to addressing potential skills shortages is more than raising salaries or seeking out narrow bands of technical skills. (Though these are important as well.) IT leaders, above all, see culture as the key to this challenge, Whitehurst observes. “Finding solutions to these talent issues begins with a culture that empowers people by connecting them to an organization’s larger mission,” he says, observing that “business-altering innovation occurs when people have the freedom to contribute in ways that go beyond the skills they list on their resumes.”

Many IT leaders in the report also are seeking special qualities that go beyond technical expertise. Characteristics and aptitudes matter a great deal – especially since skills constantly need refreshes n the IT space. Bryson Koehler, CIO at IBM’s The Weather Company, says he looks for “curiosity and openness, and a love of data, analytics, and weather.” Jay Ferro, CIO at the American Cancer Society wants to know that new hires “will be resilient and able to pivot in the face of change.” Dr. David Bray, a senior executive and the CIO for the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, looks for creative problem solvers. “Like the character Sherlock Holmes, they should be excited about the problem or challenge of solving a case and motivated to doggedly pursue it until it’s done,” he explained in the HBR report.

For insurance IT leaders, it all boils down to selling the change that the industry is undergoing, and encouraging IT professionals to come along for the ride. Given the digital disruptions that are now sweeping the industry, this shouldn’t be a hard sell at all.

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