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Vanessa Kodisang | How to STEM the talent exodus in insurance

Vanessa Kodisang | How to STEM the talent exodus in insurance
30-06-23 / Vanessa Kodisang

Insurance, like any other sector, is experiencing a brain drain and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract and retain top talent. This not only requires some soul-searching by insurers themselves, but also a closer rethink of how effectively the education system is catering for what the job market needs.

Having worked across various sectors, during my two years at Hollard I’ve observed that there are skills unique to the insurance sector that need to be developed in far more depth – notably, digital, and actuarial skills.

For one, more effort should be expended in nurturing an interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects from the foundation phase of schooling.

The industry should be an active player in highlighting the range of career options in actuarial sciences and digital technology, providing sufficient work-readiness opportunities so that we can build a healthy pipeline of graduates who are ready to step into our sector.

As an example of the impact of this lack of promotion, the industry is struggling to meet employment equity targets when it comes to employing black female actuarial scientists – because the current talent pool is so small. Furthermore, digital workers are at a premium and can name their price and terms. So, we need to roll up our sleeves to entice more of these professionals into our industry at all stages of the educational and career value chain.

It’s not enough to simply say we need to stem the tide of people leaving the industry due to emigration, semigration or better prospects. We need to think more proactively. It’s time to introspect and ensure that  what we are offering is attractive, if not irresistible, to job-seekers. And I’m not just talking about a competitive salary package – value-added benefits tailored to each individual’s needs must be there, too.

To remain competitive and relevant, an organisation needs to maintain a healthy balance between experience and institutional knowledge on the one side, and youthful ideas and creativity on the other. New employees who have worked in other sectors can also bring innovation and fresh, alternative perspectives to the table.

Career-pathing to develop and retain staff

But we can’t just create jobs for the sake of it – there needs to be sufficient movement and career progression to create the space for others to come in. And we should offer the new hires a defined career path – otherwise, we will struggle to retain them.

Highly talented people are hungry to grow and develop. Companies that foster a growth mindset are more likely to acquire and keep top talent. Hollard has one of the biggest training budgets I’ve seen at a corporate, and our Hollardites are also fortunate to have access to opportunities within the broader South African Group, across Africa through Hollard International, and even down under through our operations in Australia if they feel the need for fresh challenges and internal mobility.

If the bouquet on offer is not sufficiently attractive, younger staff may only join for a few years to gain experience before branching off to consult or freelance in the growing gig economy. We can’t expect millennials and Generation Z to fit into an existing mould – they have different ways of doing things and, often, different needs.

Increasingly, we’re seeing flexibility being a top demand from job-seekers. They want mobility options to suit their evolving personal needs and preferences.

At Hollard, for example, we accommodate remote and hybrid working while trying to find a balance with on-site working at our beautiful Parktown head office to ensure our culture and employee engagement levels don’t suffer.

The beauty of this model is that it broadens your pool of available talent beyond your immediate geographical area. If a company is serious about attracting top talent, it should personalise its offer based on candidates’ individual needs and enter into mutually beneficial relationships with employees that will nourish their creativity.

Culture and diversity are key

The traditional employee value proposition has shifted – it’s not just about the benefits offered but the entire workplace culture. And, because up to 76% of employees leave a job because of a manager, leaders also need to buy into new ways of managing millennials and Gen Z without stifling them. Rather, channel that intergenerational tension into something constructive and productive.

Remember, too, that younger people want to work for companies that are serious about contributing to the betterment of society. This notion is embedded in Hollard’s “better futures” business purpose and finds expression in our ChangeMaker initiative, where policyholders and non-policyholders alike can volunteer their time to make a real difference in people’s lives.

The notion of shared value – a genuine social compact between business and society – is important to young people who want to see the triple bottom line in action, not just as a footnote in annual reports.

Culture, of course, is key when it comes to talent management. People often say in interviews that they are keen to join Hollard for its internal culture and, yes, we do have a reputation for having a “big purple family” – but it goes beyond fun and perks like Nando’s vouchers. We place a premium on mental health and wellness, and meeting Hollardites where they are and where they want to be.

Building a cohesive company culture pivots around fostering diversity, which brings immense value to an organisation. Look at any credible study and you’ll see how prioritising diversity, equity and inclusion can turbocharge profitability. We’re not just talking diversity from a racial, gender and ability perspective, but also about diversity in terms of ideas and opinions and ways of thinking. This adds depth and richness to your offering – particularly if, as an insurer, you serve a really diverse customer base.

Diversity in leadership is also crucial for role-modelling. As a young black female executive, I draw inspiration from Besa Ruele, CEO of Hollard Life Solutions, for example. The importance of seeing someone like yourself in a leadership role cannot be overstated.

Of course, diversity means nothing without inclusivity, and I would add an extra prong to that – belonging. It’s no good packing your organisation with people from previously marginalised groups if they feel like outsiders. And so, part of creating an inclusive culture is effectively dealing with conscious and unconscious biases.

Managers should realise that homogeneity leads to staleness – and that each person’s unique needs and circumstances must be taken into account.

Don’t institute change for change’s sake but use data-driven insights – from employee engagement surveys to exit interviews – to guide your talent acquisition policy and strategy. For starters, I strongly believe that our industry can get more involved in lobbying for end-to-end STEM literacy from school level upwards, taking part in career days and creating connections with our brands from an early age.

Walk the talk and show that your organisation has a meaningful impact on society that will resonate with young people and the broader talent pool – and reap the benefits.

*Vanessa Kodisang is Head of Human Capital at Hollard Group

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