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Flexibility, New Technology Key To Attracting Young IT Workers

Insurers are finding that both their technology environments and their working environments are keys to attracting top IT talent from younger generations.

According to some industry executives and observers, the insurance sector is headed toward a major shortage of IT talent. Others profess that suggestions of such a shortage are widely overblown.

What is known, however, is that workers from the baby boom generation are getting older, and the first wave of boomers currently is approaching retirement. Meanwhile, insurance companies must compete not only with one another, but across industries to attract the brightest among the next generation of IT workers.

"If you look at insurers, they're running these massive legacy systems, and these legacy systems are being held up and resuscitated, if you will, by an aging workforce," relates Jonathan Steiman, a New York-based Datamonitor analyst who specializes in insurance technology. "As this workforce moves on into retirement, supporting those systems will become increasingly more difficult." >>

Whether this confluence of circumstances leads to a major IT workforce shortage for insurers remains to be seen. But in a way, the answer is irrelevant. That's because the importance of recruiting and retaining talented IT people, for many insurance companies, has always been a critical issue. With technology emerging as an increasingly critical competitive differentiator, the importance placed on recruiting and retaining top IT talent will continue to rise. The (very likely) possibility of a major shortage only will amplify that urgency.

"Relative to the urgency, that hasn't deviated," says Grange Insurance ($1.9 billion in assets) CIO Michael Fergang of the value that the Columbus, Ohio-based carrier has placed on finding young IT workers over the years. "The demand exceeds the supply. We're always aggressively trying to find talented people."

According to Barbara Ring, an SVP of human resources at the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies ($14 billion in revenue), the Warren, N.J.-based insurer also has placed a high priority on hiring new IT talent. "We are trying to take a more proactive approach to both staffing and recruiting" in anticipation of the retirement of an aging workforce, relates Ring, who describes her position as Chubb's human resources manager for IT.

Perhaps the issue, then, is not whether recruiting and retaining IT talent is a priority, but rather what are the best ways to attract and keep young IT professionals. After all, today's youngest workers have a different set of workforce expectations than do previous generations.

Naturally, many emerging IT pros express a desire to work with the latest technologies, which can be an issue for an insurance industry that, despite drastic improvements, still is encumbered by a fair share of legacy systems. At the same time, prospective employees from younger generations are far more likely to appreciate more-flexible, more-collaborative working environments. It's quite possible that the insurers most in tune with these expectations will be the same insurers that find success in replenishing their IT ranks with the most-talented individuals.

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