The pressure on recruiting in the insurance industry is at an all-time high. Is it time to increase the emphasis on soft skills and decrease the focus on four-year degree requirements?

The recently released Q1 2022 Insurance Labor Market Study, published by insurance talent recruiting firm Jacobson, reveals stunning information about the movements in the current insurance hiring environment.

According to the study, 72% of insurance companies in the United States are planning on expanding their employee base during 2022. Of the insurers surveyed, 49% stated that they added staff over the past 12 months in an increasingly competitive and dry talent market. Jacobson estimates the unemployment rate in the insurance industry currently stands at just 1.7%. Finding new talent has rarely been as competitive as it is today. “The Great Resignation” has very much turned into “The Hiring Hustle.”

 

Just Six Figures Isn’t Enough Anymore

On the surface of today’s hiring challenges, it clearly seems that we’re living through a time of excessive salary expectations. However, Teresa Freeman, a renowned HR consulting executive who specializes in college recruiting, performance management, learning and coaching, disagrees that this is the entire story. “Companies need to get real about what they’re offering and who they are competing with, and listen to what candidates are asking for.”

There is no doubt that the financial element in careers today is critical. The dynamic is driven by substantial increases in pay, with some multinational companies doubling their salary caps, as well as the fact that more than half of Americans are still living paycheck to paycheck — and that includes a lot of people who make more than $100,000 a year. Jacobson suggests that if you can’t budge on the bottom line, offer flexibility to provide value. Popular perks to offer include flexible hours and work-from-home options. Some companies are thinking even further outside the box and offering benefits that matter more than pay, including offering or extending paternity leave and fertility benefits.

With a closer look, however, the current talent shortage isn’t just a financial challenge. It may be what Freeman describes as a “layered issue” that builds on salary requirements and is amplified by a communication gap between candidates and employers. “There’s a big disconnect between what companies can offer and what quality candidates are demanding right now.

 

Soft Skills Are Missing

Freeman is plugged into recruiting for multiple industries and sees what she calls a crisis when it comes to soft skills. She says, “Many people are struggling to get hired because of their underdeveloped soft skills.”

Plenty of candidates with compelling qualifications seem to come up short on networking, interviewing, leadership and communication skills. The result is a growing frustration among employers because knowledge and occupational skills aren’t supported by a reasonable foundation of interpersonal skills that would allow candidates to interact comfortably and effectively with other staff.

To counteract this trend, some organizations in the insurance industry have begun taking action on their own. On platforms such as YouTube, insurers connect with career seekers by providing advice on, for example, interview best practices. Job portals such as Indeed and digital career consultants such as CareerVidz have also significantly stepped up their efforts to give advice on the soft skills that are required for job interviews in the insurance industry.

Non-Degreed Applicants Get Lost

Freeman suggests that employers can aim to alleviate some of the hiring pain by looking beyond the traditional job requirements horizon. “College degrees are historically a way to sort candidates,” she says, “but there are also a lot of talented, non-degreed people whose resumes are ignored because they don’t check the right boxes.”

These days, the most difficult jobs to fill in insurance are those that require knowledge in technology, claims and analytics. While

“There are also a lot of talented, non-degreed people whose resumes are ignored because they don’t check the right boxes.”

Teresa Freeman

HR Consulting Executive

we typically look first at relevant college degrees to validate a
candidate’s claimed expertise, we know that there are other critical educational pathways that enable people to acquire and validate important hard skills.It’s not out of the ordinary for employers to consider traditional degree requirements as well as knowledge that may have been acquired through alternative pathways, including certification training. Other industries that have been struggling to find talent for some time, such as the IT industry, have been building skill-focused certification programs — even Google is now offering certificate programs to stimulate growth within the IT workforce.

“Dropping the degree requirement can open up your candidate pool and cut down education time substantially,” Freeman says. If that also means that employers can access a much more balanced skill set consisting of hard and soft skills, we may be seeing a shift in the way new talent is considered for interviews. “Soft skills go a long way, so if a non-degreed candidate has the ability to problem solve and show up on time, give them a chance,” she says. “If I had to choose between two people with a similar skill set, one with a degree and a bad attitude and the other without a degree who is easy to work with, I’d go with collaborative every time.”

Michelle Lange is a business and technology writer based in Chicago, IL.