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12:05 PM
Kathy Burger
Kathy Burger
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Can Insurers Compete in the Global Competition for Qualified Workers?

New research from the ManpowerGroup indicates that one in three employers is having trouble filling jobs due to lack of available talent. Do insurance companies have the right strategies to compete in this environment?

In the economic recovery that doesn't feel like a recovery -- where "the new normal" is about uncertainty and scaled-back expectations -- it's only fitting that while unemployment remains high it seems as if it's harder than ever to fill open staff positions. A recent study from workforce solutions company ManpowerGroup found that one in three employers globally report having difficulty filling jobs due to a lack of available talent. The top 10 hard-to-fill jobs in the survey are technicians; sales representatives; skilled trades workers; engineers; laborers; management/executives; accounting and finance staff; IT staff; production operators; and secretaries, PAs, administrative assistants and office support staff. Almost all of these categories are essential to the successful operations of an insurance company.

Nearly all (90 percent) of the respondents to the ManpowerGroup survey cited "candidate-specific factors" such as a lack of necessary skills and experience, insufficient qualifications, and lack of "soft skills" as the biggest obstacles to filling open spots. This means that "The world stands on the brink of a global employability crisis where there is an over-supply of available workers and an undersupply of qualified talent," the company warns in its summary of the research.

In this context, what might at first be construed as very positive and encouraging news -- the fact that 44 percent of insurers plan to increase their employee head counts during 2011 (with technology cited as one of the most in-demand positions), according to the most recent Insurance Labor Outlook Study conducted by The Jacobson Group and Ward Group -- actually is quite alarming. Where are carriers going to find people with the array of skills needed to fill critical positions in areas ranging from IT to sales to claims administration to accounting to risk analysis? Are they going to have to settle for less-qualified candidates just to get some warm bodies in-house? Without the right talent, what does it mean for growth strategies, IT projects and regulatory compliance? And perhaps most important, do insurers have a meaningful strategy for identifying, attracting and hiring the best and the brightest?

Blame the schools, emerging markets, regulation, demographic trends or competing industries, but at the end of the day it falls on insurance companies themselves to address the skills and talent shortages and come up with new career models. Just as products and delivery channels are becoming increasingly customized based on insight into customers, job descriptions and career paths probably are going to have to be tailored to the capabilities and expectations of individual employees -- another unsettling prospect in this increasingly topsy-turvy world.

Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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