Canadian Underwriter

Homegrown Talent

August 1, 2012   by Eric Gagne, Vice President, Industry Relations, Alpha Rho, Fanshawe College

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Eric Gagne, Vice President, Industry Relations, Alpha Rho, Fanshawe College

A great deal of discussion in the insurance trade press recently has focused on the need for recruiting new workers to an industry that will lose many in its workforce through retirement. And yet, little mention is made regarding from where the new workers will come.

As a current business insurance student and vice president of industry relations for Alpha Rho at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, I feel compelled to remind readers about the abundance of available talent associated with students who attend business insurance programs in the colleges throughout Ontario. Colleges are improving their programs to meet the demands of industry employers. 

Breeding New Talent

Insurance programs vary from province to province, but Ontario continues to be a popular choice, offering programs in at least four colleges — Fanshawe (London), Seneca (Toronto), Conestoga (Kitchener) and Mohawk (Hamilton). Fanshawe offers four intakes of students and two graduating classes every year. Among the four colleges, the number of graduating students from the business insurance programs is estimated to be between 100 and 200 year. Of these, many have completed a number of the chartered insurance professional (CIP) designation courses at the same time they have been completing their respective college diplomas.

Completing courses toward the CIP designation improves the professional credentials of students enrolled in the college programs. Students can attain up to nine of the 10 credits required for the designation while earning their diploma. Cyndi Hornby, program co-ordinator of Fanshawe’s insurance program, says “there is a strong focus on students to obtain many of the CIP credits before leaving the program.”

The foundation of insurance principles taught in the college programs, in addition to the professional skills learned in CIP courses, prepares students for entering the industry once they have completed their programs. Employers benefit from the knowledge students acquire in the program as well as from significant cost savings as a result of students coming to their new employers with a number of CIP credits already in hand.

“The successful graduates in the insurance programs are eager, knowledgeable and have a head start on their insurance careers,” says Mary Lynn LaBerge, operations claims manager at The Co-operators. Rob Pearson, CEO of Town and Country Mutual, concurs. “Students leave the program and have a road map,” he says. “They know what they want and have chosen this profession rather than just stumbling into it.” 

The New Recruits

Seneca college program coordinator Jeff Shnier and Fanshawe’s Hornby have seen an increase in mature students enrolling in their programs as a result of second-career funding in the past and job losses in their regions. Students in the insurance program are an average of 24 years old. Students who are changing careers or have prior education in a different field offer life skills and extensive communication and interpersonal skills — necessary soft skills that employers in the industry require.

The programs have also seen more international students looking for a career in the insurance industry. As Canada grows more ethnically diverse, employers will need multicultural employees. The business insurance program at Seneca College has found there has been an increase in international students enrolled in the program.

College insurance programs offer instruction by professionals who currently work in the industry or have recently worked in the industry. Program coordinators at the colleges recruit instructors with an extensive knowledge base, acquired after a number of years in the industry. Students benefit immensely from having loss adjusters, brokers, underwriters and managers as instructors: work experience is a valuable tool to aid students in their understanding of complex information.

Colleges have an ongoing relationship with the Insurance Institute of Canada (IIC). The colleges coordinate with the Insurance Institute’s respective provincial chapters to carry out CIP exams throughout the year, simplifying the process for the students. Since the IIC is regularly in contact with employers, feedback about the overall quality of students often makes its way back to the local chapters.

“There is ample positive feedback regarding hiring students from the college’s business insurance programs,” says Wendy Barbour, the IIC’s chapter manager for southwestern Ontario, says. “The students tend to stay in the industry, and many of them go on to mentor younger employees, educate other individuals about the industry and about choosing insurance as a career.” 

Extracurricular Activities

Another benefit of business insurance programs is extra-curricular events such as career fairs and industry conferences. In Ontario, students attend the annual conferences of the Ontario Mutual Insurance Association, Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario and the Ontario Independent Adjusters Association. Students are exposed to many different professionals at these events and the networking opportunity, coupled with the educational seminars at these events, improves the student’s understanding of the industry.

Fanshawe College takes it one step further with its insurance program. The college allows students to become members of Alpha Rho, a chapter of Gamma Iota Sigma, the International Risk Management, Insurance and Actuarial Science Fraternity. Alpha Rho is the only chapter in Canada representing Gamma Iota Sigma. The students in the fraternity at Fanshawe College take part in international events that “promote, encourage, and sustain student interest in insurance, and risk management as professions,” as indicated in Gamma Iota Sigma’s mission statement. The students take part in international conferences, symposiums and other industry events.

Alpha Rho in London Ontario hosted one event in February 2012, called the Winter Classic, which was originated by Alpha Rho to include U.S. fraternity members. Events at the 2012 Winter Classic included a tour of the Labatt Brewery in London, dinner in a downtown restaurant and attending a London Knights hockey game at the John Labatt Centre. Relationships formed at these events have proven to be an immense benefit to students, who will carry these networking and relationship-building skills to their employer.

Seneca College’s insurance program offers a unique opportunity in which insurers welcome students into their offices for a day. Specifically, two employers send buses to the college to take students to their offices. The students receive lunch from their prospective employers, enjoy time to network with staff and get an overall initial sense of the work environment in which they might find themselves one day.

As the need increases to replace retiring workers, colleges will continue to enhance their programs, adapt to changes in the industry and provide a pool of future workers. Employers can continue to rely on these colleges to produce knowledgeable, well-rounded students who in turn will strengthen the workforce, leading to the continued success of the insurance industry.

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