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Insurance sector draws on experienced retirees to ensure the future

Insurance sector draws on experienced retirees to ensure the future
10-07-24 / Sisanda Ndlovu

Insurance sector draws on experienced retirees to ensure the future

Johannesburg - South Africa’s non-life insurance sector relies on experienced financial service practitioners that have spent many years honing their skills to provide professional advice and service to their clients. When these individuals retire, their skills leave  with them and there is often a lack of sufficient experience and technical skills especially in specialist lines of business making it difficult to replace these industry heavyweights.

According to the Insurance Sector Education and Training Authority (INSETA), there are scarce and critical skills occupations within the non-life insurance sector where the insurance industry must compete with other sectors for qualified candidates. Insurance has historically not been seen as a desirable career choice for young adults compared to other fields within the financial industry, in part because of the tradition of commission-based remuneration. This shortage of suitable candidates is slowing the process of transformation and the transfer of skills from experienced insurance practitioners to younger candidates.

The insurance industry has been striving to establish an environment in which industry players can cooperate to increase the skills base and prevent the ongoing poaching of talent. The SAIA Skills Development Working Group members agreed that the sector needed to look to its members and create an mentorship programme. The result was the Retiree Repurposing Programme. 

The pilot programme launched in 2022 by the South African Insurance Association (SAIA) in partnership with INSETA and Insurance Institute of South Africa (IISA), the programme has made significant strides to bridge the skills gap in the non-life insurance sector by leveraging the experience of retirees. The 2022/23 pilot programme concluded with five (5) retired experts mentoring ten (10) junior management candidates. 

Discussions are underway with relevant industry and higher learning institutions stakeholders to address the formalisation of a training academy which would incorporate this programme in addition to the other formal accredited courses, as is the case in the UK insurance sector replicating the Insurance Apprenticeship Programme (IAP) model.

The 2024/25 programme began on 1 April 2024 and will run until 31 March 2025. This year’s programme leveraged on the pilot programme learnings making it possible to expand the offering and increase the number of mentees and mentors. For 2024, the programme was expanded to accommodate twenty (20) mentees paired with ten (10) mentors. In addition, this year’s programme has incorporated a soft skills IT programme to enable the mentees to also boost these skills. The objective remains to ensure a comprehensive transfer of technical knowledge and leadership skills, enhancing the professional development of participants. The programme also seeks to address the challenge of how to be a better leader, how to handle conflict, and how to deal with a toxic work environment. The programme includes soft skills courses and technical and administrative skills. Mentees do not necessarily have to be managing people, but they have to be at a junior management level. The focus is on their dedication to following the rules and structures of the mentoring programme for the benefit of their careers.

The mentees are contracted to SAIA and must commit to meeting with mentors twice a month for 12 months and complete regular personalised assessments. Their experience and fields of interest cover various lines of non-life insurance, such as general insurance, marine insurance, engineering, agriculture and reinsurance. Interactions are primarily through several online apps (Teams, Zoom, etc.), but wherever possible, one-on-one interactions are encouraged.

To date the programme has been well-received by mentees, with participants reporting increased confidence, enhanced technical skills, and valuable industry insights. Mentors and mentees alike have benefited from this initiative, which is pivotal for the sustainability and progression of the non-life insurance industry in South Africa.

Quality versus qualifications

Mentors are required to possess specific skill levels, such as an exceptional professional track record highlighting the in-depth knowledge and skills gained in business over their career as well as computer proficiency, which are supported by the institutions involved. The course involves multiple online programmes, so participants must be able to navigate a digital interface. The course has three broad pillars: technical expertise, digital literacy and leadership and soft skills.

SAIA along with the programme manager conducted a rigorous interview process where certain questions were asked of the mentors and the mentees to determine, first, the right mentality of the mentor and the right quality of the mentee in order to ensure a quality pairing between the mentor and mentee.

The programme has three main focuses: understanding risk management and product development, leveraging data sets, and addressing cybersecurity challenges. The third is centred on ethics, compliance, communication skills, negotiation, and problem-solving, with a focus on achieving win-win outcomes. The programme will benefit the mentees’ careers as the mentors will encourage and assist the mentees to meet and interact with high-level industry members and expand their networks.

Evaluation

Mentors and mentees are assessed every three months, and the outcomes are used to improve the "success metric". This helps in making any needed changes early in the programme to ensure there are no hinderances to a successful programme. This way, mentors and mentees can adjust their methods and gain more from the programme. The mentees also give an eight-minute presentation of their progress to the group as part of the quarterly group evaluation.

SAIA believes that similar programmes can be adapted and scaled for implementation in most corporations. The biggest hindrance, however, is that very few corporate human resource structures incorporate mentoring as part of the company's KPI requirements. SAIA hopes to expand the programme and accommodate more participants for future intakes. The benefits of knowledge transfer and the continuous development of junior-level candidates have a measurable impact on the organisation, which increases staff retention and continuity and expands the beneficial spin-offs of deep-level networking.

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