Canadian Underwriter

Can a new college program draw talent to commercial brokerages?

January 18, 2023   by Alyssa DiSabatino

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The specialized nature of commercial brokering is causing a talent shortage now that veterans are retiring in droves.

“I literally get three or four different companies a week that ask for talent, and it’s amplified across the industry,” said John McNeil professor and insurance program coordinator at Humber College.

A lot of people are retiring, which means the technical knowledge required to be a commercial broker retires with them.

“We’re seeing this massive exodus of all these technical scientists and specialists in the industry,” he said. “[The commercial] broker wears three hats, at least in my opinion, [including that of] a commercial lines underwriter at times. It requires a unique skill set and serious technical knowledge.”

Whether they specialize in trucking, manufacturing, shipping, auto or other business segments, commercial brokers need to be experts in their clients’ sectors. Generalists often don’t cut it.

“[They need] to understand all the small nuances of those businesses, because certainly a commercial broker is a trusted advisor who wants to provide coverage as best as possible,” McNeil said.

The shortage of qualified talent is happening nationally and across all commercial segments — and it isn’t exclusive to commercial brokering.

McNeil recently attended career fairs designed to put college students from Humber’s insurance programs in front of hiring brokerages. Based on that experience, he’s learned the need for qualified broker talent is wide-ranging.

“You would see broker shops coming from everywhere, as far as out as Ottawa and Cornwall, and the Kingston area and southwestern Ontario,” he said. “I was even having discussions with people in Timmins. It’s a hard sell to get a student…in the GTA to come all the way out to these remote areas.”

Although he gets calls from companies regularly asking for students to hire, McNeil recalled a conversation he had with a broker leader who explained why it wasn’t simple or practical for him to hire students lacking basic broker tech training.

“I was trying to find placement opportunities for students…and one broker really woke me up and said, ‘I’d love to hire your students, but how am I going to train them?’”

A new certificate program by Toronto’s Humber College is designed to help plug the emerging holes in the commercial broking segment. The Commercial Account Manager Certificate Program launches this month as a pilot course and offers a one-certificate-fits-all model to attract insurance novices, such as career changers from outside industries or newly graduated students. It also has something to offer intermediate-level brokers, including personal lines brokers who want to switch to the commercial stream.

Students taking the certificate course get foundational insurance skills, technical commercial skills, professional selling, account management and client-prospect training. Students coming from other insurance segments with these qualifications are exempted from this content portion.

As for the trends he’s seeing in the types of students entering Humber’s insurance program, McNeil noted a steady flow of international students, as well as an increasing number of career-changers.

“It’s up to us to position ourselves as an amazing industry to work in, that is known to be recession-proof, and at the same time is a great place to work. Really, within three months, [a student] can become a commercial broker or on [their] way to becoming one.”


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