Kellie Goldfien, CPCU, a principal and vice president in the international practice at Willis Towers Watson, doesn’t make a list of New Year’s resolutions. She makes a list of things to learn in the new year.

Executive Summary

It is all too common for companies to inadvertently create barriers to employee learning when attempting to trim budgets for short-term results, according to The Institutes’ Martin Frappoli. Here, he provides some ways to refocus employees on becoming lifelong learners.

What’s on her latest list? She’s currently learning more about cyber insurance coverage and delving into the history of the Venezuelan economy.

“I’m always trying to learn something new,” said Goldfien. “I don’t even know how you would stop learning.”

Goldfien describes herself as a lifelong learner. She is not alone in the insurance world, where keeping up with industry trends is a career necessity.

Stephanie Wells, CPCU, an associate product manager at Nationwide Insurance, has a similar mentality. “If you fail to keep up, fail to be knowledgeable, you aren’t as valuable to an employer,” said Wells. “I’d rather be at the forefront of what’s happening within the industry.”

That’s a crucial point for risk management and insurance leaders to understand. After a long career in the industry, it can be difficult for executives to remember what it was like to not know the fundamentals. The feeling of being an insurance newcomer can be forgotten as institutional knowledge becomes ingrained and diving into emerging risk is an extension of everyday tasks.

The result can be that leaders fail to recognize that their wealth of knowledge is not innate but learned—and can largely be credited to the support and formal education they received from their companies throughout the years.

The Danger of Sidestepping

Years ago, companies across all industries were quick to offer both new-hire and continuing education programs, either through in-house services or external organizations. Yet some industry veterans say that organizations are no longer emphasizing professional education like they once did.

It’s probably no coincidence that employees today report spending more time pursuing professional training on their own than through their employers. When companies reduce the emphasis on employee education, there can be a cost down the road that exceeds any short-term savings.

The risk management and insurance business often requires a significant degree of professional training because of the highly technical nature of the business and the continued evolution of both risks and coverages. Even so, some insurance organizations aren’t focusing on employee education and thus risk creating a knowledge gap. Ironically, some players in the risk management business aren’t addressing this knowledge and skills risk, even as the industry looks to fill half a million new positions between now and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A lack of commitment to professional development can also hurt corporate productivity. A 2012 study found that 96 percent of employers say continuing education improves job performance. This resonates deeply with Goldfien, who says employer support has been critical not only to her professional development but also to the relationship she has had with her employers. “I’ve always had more success with companies willing to invest in my training,” she said.

In fact, a 2016 report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) notes that 42 percent of employees view job-specific training as “very important,” and 39 percent report that career development opportunities are essential. In other words, employees view learning and personal growth as a large component of job satisfaction. Fail to offer either and you risk losing top-performing employees to other companies or industries.

The good news is that employers willing to prioritize lifelong learning can view this last risk as an opportunity, because the research shows that many employees are eager to pursue learning opportunities.

A study released this year by the Pew Research Center reveals that 73 percent of American adults consider themselves to be lifelong learners, through everything from reading books to taking classroom courses to exploring museums.

Stewarding Lifelong Learners

Despite the evidence that learning drives value, it is all too common for companies to take expertise for granted and inadvertently create barriers to employee learning when attempting to trim budgets for short-term results.

At the same time, there are easy ways to refocus employees on becoming lifelong learners:

1. Support formal learning: Among the easiest strategies is supporting staff who choose to pursue professional designations and certifications, whether insurance-specific or broader to business.

Take the example of Goldfien at Willis Towers Watson. She joined the industry after grad school, knowing little about insurance intricacies, and says her employer’s lunchtime training program for The Institutes’ Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) designation was the catalyst to launching her into a career she loves.

2. Focus on culture: Pew’s research has also found that nearly 90 percent of professional learners cite their workplace, dedicated off-site facilities or conferences as places where they most commonly learn. With that in mind, employers should encourage all employees to learn and all managers to empower learning through formal programs and informal opportunities.

3. Lead by example: Leaders need to practice what they preach. It is equally important for everyday managers to support their employees’ learning goals as it is for the executive team to participate.

4. Encourage social learning: Consider learning opportunities outside of formal designation training, such as networking and mentorship programs.

David Hall, CPCU, is a section manager at State Farm who has interacted with employees from many companies through his volunteer work with the CPCU Society. He spoke of the natural synergy that follows from formal education, noting that a designation can open the door, but the opportunities to apply that knowledge, gain leadership skills and network with other professionals are powerful ways to leverage formal training.

“I think that kind of support is something companies really need to figure out,” Hall said.

“It’s the real-time, day-to-day learning of industry trends that keeps you current after getting your designation,” he said. “Because the industry has to shape itself around emerging technologies and legal practices, learning must happen in real time. The only way to do that is through involvement in an organization that teaches those things.”

He added, “So much of what I’ve gained is because of my ability to be active, to be in a leadership position, to figure out how to lead virtually and bring people together.”

In 1959, business expert and author Peter Drucker first posited the notion of the knowledge worker in his book “Landmarks of Tomorrow.” We’re fully in that world now. Regardless of the path companies choose to take in encouraging lifelong learning, the fact that they need to take that path to ensure their long-term success is clear.