February 12, 2018

The Hartford aims to stem worker shortage with call-center apprentices

HBJ Photo | Steve Laschever
HBJ Photo | Steve Laschever
Adia Copper, who is studying business management at Capital Community College, is one of the apprentices in The Hartford's new insurance apprenticeship program who is getting on-the-job training at the insurer's claims center in Windsor.
John Kinney, Chief Claims Officer, The Hartford
Wilfredo Nieves, President, Capital Community College
HBJ Photo | Steve Laschever
Adia Copper (middle) said the apprenticeship program is preparing her to step into a full-time job and career at The Hartford.
Photo | HBJ File
Hartford’s Capital Community College has become a breeding ground for insurance industry recruits.
HBJ Photo | Steve Laschever
Hartford’s Capital Community College has become a breeding ground for insurance industry recruits like Alexis Martin, an apprentice at The Hartford.

By the Numbers: CT's insurance industry

56,890
Estimated number of insurance workers in Connecticut as of the first quarter of 2017.

$70,957
The median wage of an insurance company employee in the state.

$85,466
The average wage of an insurance company employee in the state.

$43,404
The average wage of an entry-level insurance company worker in Connecticut.

John Kinney likes what he sees in the students working their way through The Hartford's new claims insurance apprenticeship program operated in concert with Capital Community College (CCC) in Hartford and a community college in Arizona.

"These kids, they've gone farther than some of their peers to get to where they've gotten to," said Kinney, chief claims officer at The Hartford. "They've persevered through stuff that others have not, and I love that profile because you throw them into a training environment and they work hard, they're smart as hell and frankly, they're great at problem-solving."

Good characteristics for claims professionals helping people experiencing loss.

They also will help The Hartford sustain its pool of professionals in an industry facing a talent drain as aging workers retire. A 2013 report in PropertyCasualty360 said the industry would need to fill 400,000 positions by 2020.

That's the year by which The Hartford hopes to have hired 200 apprentices from its program, which launched in June with federal registration.

Stef Zielezienski, general counsel of the American Insurance Association, said The Hartford's effort to answer industry labor needs is a smart one.

"Chris Swift is one of just a handful of CEOs leading the industry's efforts to address our employment gaps," Zielezienski said of The Hartford's chairman and CEO.

The 15 students in the inaugural program — nine at CCC, six at Rio Salado College in Tempe, Ariz. — combine insurance and other business-specific classes with paid, on-the-job, customer-facing training at claims centers in Windsor and Scottsdale, Ariz. Most were about a year into their college studies when they began the apprenticeship, meaning they'll complete their associate degrees by spring and their required on-the-job hours by September.

As long as apprentices continue the course they've set so far, they'll be offered full-time jobs this summer after they graduate, Kinney said.

Positions will pay $45,000 a year to start in Windsor, plus full benefits, extending benefits also provided during the apprenticeship.

While the benefits and pay are attractive, so too is the flexibility offered to students managing work and school, said apprentice Max Mejia, 29.

"That really got my attention because not that many jobs do that nowadays," Mejia, a CCC student on track to get his associate degree in accounting in the spring and apprentice credential in September, said of the work flexibility around things like school exams.

He intends to seek full-time employment at The Hartford, citing the positive environment and company's reputation.

Fellow apprentice Alexis Martin, 22, also plans to work full-time there after apprenticing and graduating with a management degree.

"Overall, it's a great career opportunity and I think that future apprentices could benefit from this as well," Martin said.

Adia Copper, 25, who's studying business management, said the apprenticeship is preparing her to hit the ground running at The Harford, where she intends to seek full-time work. She also values the connections she's getting with longtime employees at The Hartford.

"I feel like they want to help us in the best possible way," Copper said. "I can definitely see myself working long term for the company."

Mutual benefits

Capital Community College President Wilfredo Nieves said the college has begun recruiting students for the next apprenticeship, saying the program is working well as students earn while they learn.

Also, key for students, Nieves said: mentors interested in them and validating them.

The benefits run both ways, he said.

"The good thing for The Hartford, they also get the opportunity to evaluate an individual who they've trained," Nieves said. "I can't understate the value of loyalty that's developed between the student and the organization."

The program includes 61 credit hours of college coursework and 2,400 hours of on-the-job training at The Hartford, with a curriculum that includes insurance-specific topics. Graduates will earn registered apprenticeship credentials certifying their proficiency.

The program includes the Connecticut Department of Labor, Arizona Department of Economic Security and is registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, which provides tuition assistance through its American Apprenticeship Grant Initiative.

The Hartford's Kinney said CCC has done well to align curriculums with needed skill sets.

Myriad partnerships

The Hartford isn't the only insurer CCC partners with — others include Travelers Cos., The Guardian Life Insurance of America and UnitedHealth Group, Nieves said.

In 2007, Travelers began a program in partnership with CCC now known as Capital's Career Advancement Program and is the model used for the Travelers EDGE (Empowering Dreams for Graduation and Employment) program.

Travelers EDGE is a school-to-career pipeline to increase access to higher education for underrepresented students and highlight careers in insurance and financial services, the company said.

The Career Advancement Program feeds Travelers EDGE and supports other area employers. Capital Community College students in the career advancement course must take business-related majors and a full-year internship at Travelers. In addition to an internship, Travelers provides students with a financial stipend, mentors and professional development opportunities, the company said.

Once students graduate with an associate degree, those interested in pursuing a career at Travelers or in another related industry can continue with the Travelers EDGE program if they pursue a bachelor's degree at UConn or Central Connecticut State University. Travelers then continues to provide financial assistance, mentors, internships, job-shadowing experiences and professional development workshops.

Many participants then apply for full-time positions at Travelers after graduation, the company said.

Since 2007, Travelers Edge has provided more than $23 million in financial support to schools and community organizations, provided 443 undergraduate students with a scholarship or stipend, placed 206 students in Travelers internships and helped 62 land full-time jobs at Travelers, the company reported.

Travelers EDGE graduates work in departments that include actuarial, claim, underwriting and operations to IT, finance, legal and marketing.

The Guardian Life Insurance of America, meanwhile, created a personal finance center for students at CCC that includes a tech lab for financial coaching, workshops on budgeting, best practices in paying for college, credit and debt management, retirement and investment planning and free tax-filing assistance.

Guardian also covers fees, books and materials for students enrolled in the Money Management for Life course focusing on personal finance and offering full-time paid internships for students who complete the course.

Self-sustaining pipeline

At The Hartford, building a self-sustaining pipeline of diverse talent was also among the apprenticeship program's goals, Kinney said.

"Everyone's fighting for that talent, and this to me is a way to go get that talent at inception, when I know it's a very competitive market," Kinney said.

As the apprentices become full-time employees, they also qualify for tuition reimbursement to get four-year and graduate degrees, if they wish, further benefiting the company over time, he said.

Apprentice Mejia said it's been rewarding helping customers. One group, especially, stood out.

When Hurricane Irma hit Florida in September, the apprentices helped take policyholders' calls.

"It was a good experience helping those people down there," Mejia said.

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