At last November's I&T Executive Summit, Deb Smallwood (then with ICW group, now with Smallwood Maike & Associates) quickly polled the audience during her presentation. First, she asked how many in the crowd were baby boomers. Then, how many were a part of Generation X.
And as you might imagine, each question led to a significant number of raised hands. Finally, she asked how many considered themselves members of Generation Y.
Only one hand went up. It was mine.
Looking back, I shouldn't have been that surprised. After all, how many twenty-somethings do you expect to see at an event aimed at the CIOs, EVPs and heads of lines of business of the insurance industry? Still, it did illustrate an interesting, larger point: today's insurance industry is top heavy with older workers.I think that, for the most part, insurance execs have recognized that the industry is heavy on older workers and that, as those workers edge closer to retirement, their organizations could be at risk of a workforce shortfall. As a result, many insurers have launched "recruit and retain initiatives" to attract younger workers and keep them at the company. Many of those initiatives are specifically targeted towards young IT professionals - a relatively small group whose skills are highly sought after by just about any industry.
While attracting recent college graduates and other younger workers will undoubtedly be a key to solving the potential problems caused the impending baby boom retirement blitz, a recent Wall Street Journal article has me wondering if insurers are largely ignoring an even more obvious part of the solution - retaining and recruiting older workers.
Many experts, the WSJ's Erin White reports, say firms are overlooking older workers "who can be wooed to continue working" as potential employees.
Consider the following excerpts from the article:
Only 18% of U.S. employers reported having a strategy to recruit older workers, and only 28% cited a plan to retain older employees at their own firms, according to a survey of 1,000 U.S. companies in late 2006 by Manpower Inc., a staffing and employment-services firm.
Employers who ignore older workers now will suffer as boomers near retirement age, says Melanie Cosgrove Holmes, a vice president at Manpower. By 2012, nearly one in three U.S. workers will be over 50, according to AARP, a group for people age 50 and older. "Progressive companies that are looking ahead...are the ones that are going to be most successful," Ms. Holmes says.
What's more, the article also identifies that, along with higher salary expectations and health care costs, many companies are hesitant to recruit older workers because they don't want to teach them new skills.
Of course, for insurers' IT departments, many of which are still heavy on legacy systems and coding, older workers could be a blessing much more than a curse. Recent college graduates may know the latest and greatest in computer science, but they likely were never taught how to support a policy administration system that was implemented during Martin Van Buren's first term (ok, maybe not Mr. Van Buren, but perhaps Mr. Carter).
Some insurers are already seeing the light. MetLife, for instance, is mentioned in the WSJ article as a member of the AARP's "National Employer Team." New York Life is also a part of the program. Under the "National Employer Team" label, older workers can search for job opportunities at those insurers through the AARP web site.
As a whole though, most plans in place to curtail any pending workforce shortages focus solely on attracting younger workers. And while that is clearly the best long-term solution, insurers can still shore up immediate experience and employment gaps by taking a look at older workers...
To use the 2007 I&T Executive Summit as an example: why go after the one representative of Generation Y, when there is a room full of baby boomers willing to raise their hands?