May 21, 2014

The Training Pay-Off

The need to develop more IT talent internally is driving insurers to invest more in training. "We're seeing a bigger push for companies to build their homegrown departments, recruiting individuals with actuarial sciences, quantitative analytics and mathematician-type roles right out of college," says Jeff Rieder, partner and head of executive search firm The Ward Group. The training these individuals receive, Rieder adds, typically centers around marketing and applications of their skills to other areas such underwriting.

InformationWeek Analytics salary survey results indicate that almost two-thirds of insurance IT managers (61%) and staff (62%) received company-paid training in the past year, up from 2013, when 59% of managers and 55% of staff received company-funded training.

When asked about the types of training they'd find valuable in their career development, nearly three-fourths (73%) of insurance IT staffers and more than half (53%) of managers identified technology-specific training. More than one-fourth of managers (28%) said they would find training in people management to be beneficial in their career development.

Patriot National's Haddad reports that IT employees are empowered to pursue training to address an area of deficiency or to gain more training about a specific technology. The carrier lets employees take courses or obtain certification at night or over weekends, reimbursing them for taking the courses on their own time.

Working Together

It's not just skills related to the proverbial SMAC (social, mobile, analytics, cloud) technologies that are in demand. Insurers also value "soft" capabilities around communications and collaboration. "Written and oral communications skills are important. Technologists who can speak and write in the language of business, who can effectively present and communicate in different formats will continue to stand apart from other candidates," Jacobson Group's Milkint explains. Other areas include critical thinking skills, analytic thinking and problem-solving skills, along with the ability to think collaboratively, to synthesize information and to create coalitions.

"With more remote employees, working across multiple locations, and with offshoring and outsourcing arrangements, people now must have communications skills they can apply across more than just the traditional employees they support," notes Ward Group's Rieder.

Collaboration also is valued as a means of driving innovation -- a very hot topic in insurance. "You can't build a solution in IT unless you have a group of people collaborating across business and IT," according to PeopleProductive's Wander. "If companies want to grow their top line, they have to fix their culture and hire talent that's innovative and collaborative."

According to the InformationWeek Analytics Salary Survey, more than one-third of both staff and management said they spend more than half of their job with peers in a business unit outside IT, a sharp increase from 2013, when only 19% of staff members spent more than half their time with peers in another business unit. This year, 10% of staff and 11% of managers report that they are considered embedded in a business unit outside IT, and 7% of staff and 12% of managers say their salary comes from a non-IT business unit.

The ability to collaborate with internal and external stakeholders is an important skill for insurance IT staff and managers today, even more important than their expertise in analyzing data, developing applications and performing other IT-related tasks, say salary survey participants. In fact, besides the core competencies in IT, both staff and management must have a variety of business-oriented skills to help them get their jobs done successfully. More than two-thirds (69%) of staff and nearly all (89%) of managers said that the ability to align business and technology goals is critical to their jobs.

Intangible Rewards

The increased focus on training is more evidence that while a good paycheck and bonus will always attract talented individuals, today's insurance IT staff and managers also are looking for other, often intangible, rewards.

Compensation is an important element but only one factor, says New York Life's Castellani. "A well-compensated employee who works in a miserable environment will seek employment elsewhere," he says. "Creating an environment where employees are empowered, work in facilitated teams, have clear career paths and receive transparent feedback are a few of the cultural aspects that, when blended with compensation, create the right environment."

According to the InformationWeek Analytics research, both staff and managers value job or company stability, vacation time or paid time off, a positive job atmosphere and that their opinions and knowledge are valued. Both staff and managers are also looking to be challenged. In fact, many of these job qualities are so important that many staff members and managers would accept a lower position or title for a job that includes these rewards. Job satisfaction is important to both staff and managers. In fact, four in 10 managers and 38% of staffers cited increased job satisfaction as a reason they'd accept a demotion.

Job flexibility is also important. Jacobson Group's Milkint explains that insurers that can offer more flexibility are more attractive to the top talent, especially among Gen Y workers. "Flexibility can be a game-changer," she says. "But insurance organizations have traditionally been more conservative in terms of workplace flexibility."

Ward Group's Rieder notes that insurers now recognize and strive to offer flexible work options, although employees don't always take advantage of the opportunities. "Flexible workplace options have grown significantly with nearly 80% of insurance companies offering flex time now," he says. "However, only 36% of employees utilize the flex time in companies that offer flex time. While there has been growth in work performed remotely, many companies find great value in the traditional work environment and feel this provides better communication and collaboration amongst employees."

Not even the most flexible, nurturing employers cannot assume long-term loyalty from their IT employees, however. More than one-third of insurance company IT staff (37%) and managers (39%) surveyed by InformationWeek Analytics said they are either actively looking for new jobs with a different employer or keeping their options open. Both staff and managers who are looking for new jobs cited multiple reasons for their dissatisfaction. Aside from compensation, more than half of staff members (58%) and 46% of managers reportedly are seeking more interesting work, while 55% of managers and 42% of staffers are seeking more personal fulfillment. More than 40% of each group said they don't like their current company's management or culture, and four out of 10 IT management job seekers said they want more responsibility. Approximately one-fourth of survey respondents are looking for a new job at a company that's more dynamic than their current firm, and about one-fourth are seeking more job stability.

For more on 2014 salary trends in the insurance industry, download the full 2014 Insurance Salary Survey.