The best part of my job, other than basking in society’s admiration that is bestowed on insurance professionals and rock stars, is that I get to work with business owners of all sizes and across all sorts of industries. From large construction companies to startup nonprofits, and from peanut farmers to software engineers, I get to partner with a huge swath of Florida’s business community.
In spite of all of their differences, however, they share commonality in their response when I ask about the main thing that keeps them awake at night: Virtually all of them cite the challenge of finding and retaining quality employees. Given the state of the economy and low unemployment, I doubt that there is any industry sector or geographic section of the country that doesn’t share the same worry.
In my own industry, the problem of finding qualified new employees has been a concern for years. Our industry is aging and, you may find this hard to believe, insurance isn’t viewed by those just entering the workforce as terribly sexy (myself excluded, of course). According to a study by McKinsey and Company, the number of insurance workers age 55 or older has increased by 74 percent in the last 10 years.
We are graying, and finding replacements for experienced staff members who are retiring isn’t easy. In response, back in 2014, the Florida Association of Insurance Agents worked with the Office of Insurance Regulation and the Florida Legislature to pass a bill that created a path by which those studying in our state colleges could take three insurance classes as a part of their degree program and receive insurance licenses automatically upon successful completion.
In 2015, I and several colleagues worked with Santa Fe College to create a program locally. Statewide there are eight other state colleges offering similar programs. I’m happy to report that graduates of these programs have routinely found placement in our industry.
For a small town, Gainesville has a huge insurance economy with large insurers such as Nationwide, Tower Hill and AvMed in addition to the local agencies like mine, all looking for talent. Unfortunately, we have yet to achieve critical mass in training programs to keep up with the pace of retirement.
It is a great problem for those with licenses or experience seeking employment, but it is a scary proposition for those running companies like mine as we contemplate the percentage of our workforce that is likely to retire in the near term.
Presently, Santa Fe College offers 14 different technical and career certificate programs plus 29 different associate degree programs across a wide array of applied sciences.
Our industry is not alone in marshalling the job training focus of our state colleges. Santa Fe is not only a nationally recognized institution, it is an incredible local resource for workforce development. Presently, Santa Fe College offers 14 different technical and career certificate programs plus 29 different associate degree programs across a wide array of applied sciences.
The four-year universities also help churn out graduates who will hopefully stem the tide across many industries statewide, and we are obviously blessed to have Florida’s flagship university in our backyard. Until the economy cools, however, I suspect locating qualified prospects will remain a major challenge to all employers.
That being the case, my best clients spend a great amount of time thinking about talent retention, as your best bet in a tight labor market is to keep your most talented employees happy. Key factors in this effort include competitive compensation, career advancement opportunities, a quality employee benefit platform and creating an incredible culture which breeds a sense of allegiance to their organization.
This magazine is often filled with outstanding recommendations by people far more talented than I around the subject of building an outstanding culture. I won’t even try to best those efforts.
I will, however, offer a quick recommendation around the subject of employee benefits: You can have the best plans and benefits in the world, but if you don’t effectively communicate the importance and relevance of those benefits to your team and prospective new hires, you’ll spend a great deal of money with very little return in terms of your teams appreciating your program.
I’ll offer an example: I recently spent two days at an employer’s place of business participating in their benefits fair. The president of the company made it a point to share with me how tough of a time they were having retaining talent as competitors were poaching their talent using slight increases in hourly wages and small “signing bonuses.”
This employer offers an extremely rich array of employee benefits that cost them a significant investment. Yet, attendance at the benefit fair was completely optional and I probably had the chance to speak with only 10 percent of their employees over the two days.
As a result, those employees who were considering a move for a slight salary bump were not educated on the value of the benefit package they were leaving behind and, in all likelihood, were actually likely taking positions at a company where their take-home pay would be less, assuming those employers were not as generous with their employee benefits programs. In other words, this client did a great job in creating a valuable benefit program but failed in making sure that their employees understood that value.
Great companies are made by great people. Finding and retaining those people is the key to the success of any company. If you’re not presently planning around the subjects of recruitment and retention, today is the best time to start.