I believe you have to do what you love.

My favorite subject in school was mathematics. To me, trigonometry and advanced calculus presented challenging but enjoyable and even exciting puzzles to solve.

As I grew older, I sought a career where I could engross myself in calculations and, hopefully, my other passion, sports. At a young age, I figured I would teach and coach. But my career path took a different turn. I found insurance and I can honestly say, I love what I do.

While I never looked back, I certainly looked around. I made it a point to experience different aspects of the industry from risk manager to underwriter to a functional position internationally and finally to the C-suite.

Today’s younger talent sees the value in cross-functional experiences, too. As an industry, we provide a path, support and opportunity—but it’s up to the employee to walk down that path.

Attracting Talent

First, we need to get those young people to think about insurance and risk management. And we’re making progress. We’re seeing more students who did not originally intend to study insurance find opportunities within our industry. In 2023, 36 percent of students found insurance, despite that not being their originally intended career path. This is up from 25 percent reported the year prior, according to the 2023 Gamma Iota Sigma Recruiting Survey Report.

Our industry could do a better job of advocating for insurance as an attractive career path. We need to convey that insurance is about entrepreneurialism, assisting people in their time of need and supporting local communities.

We have started to see the industry make efforts to humanize insurance. We are bringing insurance professionals into high school classrooms to put a human face to our industry. We are also seeing on social media evidence of the good the industry does—paying claims, caring for the environment, making charitable contributions, volunteering and sponsoring events in our communities. We need to highlight our brand as one that is rooted in helping people in their time of need and demonstrate that our brand is one committed to social good and building a better future.

We know the next generation wants to work for companies that embrace a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Unfortunately, the GIS 2023 survey found fewer students feel there was significant diversity in their internship or employment. At 39 percent, this number was down from 61 percent in 2022. DEI should be a strategic issue for all of us; our organizations should be a reflection of our customers and communities—diverse.

The Value in Cross-Functional Work Experience

My career followed a non-linear path, and I treasure each of those experiences that shaped my industry knowledge and skillsets. As former Meta COO and author Sheryl Sandberg said in her book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” career paths should be viewed as jungle gyms, not ladders.

Moving around within your career is positive, and no move should be considered “lateral” if it is presenting the employee with an opportunity to grow. Companies can really benefit from those with a curious mentality who have a desire to learn different aspects of the business.

The Keys to a Better Future

I was fortunate to speak to a room of nearly 600 young people pursuing insurance and risk management at the Gamma Iota Sigma Annual Conference in late September. I shared with them that we were excited to have them grow with us as an industry and that they made a great choice. I also offered the following advice:

  • Be a life-long learner of the business and never let that curiosity fade. A broader, deeper view can build credibility and transferable skills.
  • Focus on the financial acumen. Whatever role you assume within the industry, a basic understanding of the economics of the insurance industry is invaluable.
  • Hone interpersonal and technical skills. We all have something we are naturally good at. Do not forgo the other because it is uncomfortable.

Insurance is an industry rich with opportunity. Companies need to offer career paths, but employees need to be their own CEOs when it comes to their careers. They need to bring with them enthusiasm, energy and curiosity. It is our responsibility as leaders to nurture and develop these traits within our teams.

*This article was originally published by Insurance Journal, CM’s sister publication.