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Jackson National Teaches Recruiters, Colleges and Technology Professionals the Value of Working in Financial Services IT

Jackson National Life maintains a training and internship pipeline while engaging recruiters and educational institutions to attract outstanding technology professionals to the company's IT organization.

Insurance CIOs have to contend with the fact that technology professionals, whether fresh out of school or seasoned veterans, do not tend to think of the insurance industry as a natural career destination. Bearing that in mind, Jackson National Life began this past year to hold meetings with recruiters and representatives of educational institutions to answer the question: "Why would a technology professional want to come to work for a financial services company -- and Jackson National in particular?"

These "IT Showcases," as Jackson calls them, are part of a larger ongoing focus the insurer has put in place to bring outstanding talent into its IT organization. That challenge has been even more formidable for the Lansing, Mich.-based carrier than many other insurers because it essentially rebuilt its IT organization from scratch, according to Jackson CIO Mark Clark.

"We've grown from about 10 people to 800 people in about 15 years because we were previously outsourced to EDS [Plano, Texas]," Clark relates. "There was no IT organization. [Retired CEO] Bob Saltzman hired [in 1995] George Napoles, who built the IT organization."

In the early days of rebuilding its IT organization, Jackson's technology leadership found it hard to attract young professionals who were adequately trained, Clark recalls. "We didn't think computer science professors taught programming the way our needs required people to think," he explains. "We would see cowboys obsessed with C++ who weren't taught to write intelligible code."

To develop IT professionals with skills that met the firm's needs, Jackson ($120 billion in assets) began intern and training programs. The insurer was subsequently able to identify schools, such as Michigan Tech in nearby Houghton, Mich., whose students were better trained and of a high quality in terms of their intellectual abilities, attitude and work ethic, Clark says. "We initially sought Java developers not only to teach them to write an efficient algorithm but also to teach them to self-document," he notes.

Jackson also struck up a relationship with Grand Valley State (Allendale, Mich.), which Clark characterizes as the only university he's come across that still teaches Cobol skills. "You can't stop at a stop light or use an ATM without Cobol, but nobody's training anybody to maintain it," Clark observes. "So I've encouraged colleges that they need to do that."

[12 Core Competencies to Help Insurance Companies Close the IT Skills Gap.]

Path to Success

This summer, Jackson's ongoing intern program will bring in 20 new people from participating colleges, and the carrier will also train 25 people in Cobol and Java. "We've had a lot of success bringing in young people through internships and training, including some who are now very successful VPs and directors," Clark says. "But we also need to bring in more experienced people."

To that end, Jackson opened a new office in 2010 in Nashville -- a location to which it is easier to recruit than Michigan, according to Clark -- and has embedded an executive with an IT background in human resources. Former assistant VP of IT automation systems Gary Rudnicki was named head of recruiting within HR, which, Clark says, is a measure of the importance of IT to Jackson. In addition, Jackson's IT Showcases -- the first was held in November 2011, one for recruiters at the company's Lansing headquarters; the second was held at the Nashville campus in April 2012 for recruiters -- also are aimed at recruiting experienced IT professionals.

The insurer's Nashville office has led to a relationship with Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tenn. Clark notes that the school has three separate courses for infrastructure, development and project management. "It's interesting to see that they recognize the diversity of talent needed for IT and they have begun to specialize," he relates.

Clark says any such advances in the methods of Jackson's educational institution partners are welcome, as they may mitigate what he characterizes as the self-inflicted problem of being extremely selective in recruiting. "In terms of aptitude, we're after the top 30 percent -- we like working with smart people and try to only hire them," Clark elaborates. "We'd rather have a position open than fill it with an unqualified person."

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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