Ohio insurers put competition aside to close looming talent gap

Katy Smith

When college students tell Carol Blaine they’re not interested in an insurance career because it sounds boring, she has a story for them.

“I can get a little emotional about it,” says Blaine, whose insurance industry experience led her to become the program chair for the risk management program at Franklin University. “But I managed claims for one of the companies I worked for, and there is nothing like seeing somebody’s house blown away by a hurricane and handing them a debit card so they can go get food.”

The former chair of the Ohio Insurance Institute’s Education Committee built programs at Kent State and Ohio Dominican universities and was one of the founding members of the Ohio Insurance Industry Resource Council, which was created when companies found themselves with a serious—and shared—dilemma.

Ohio is seventh in the nation for the number of insurance jobs, but many workers are preparing to retire. An analysis completed in 2016 by Columbus research firm Regionomics showed the industry would face a talent gap of 29,000 jobs by 2024.

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“We wondered, ‘What are we going to do to keep those jobs in Ohio?’ ” says Dave Kaufman, CEO of Columbus-based Encova Insurance (formerly Motorists) and co-chair of the insurance council. “And when you looked around at our universities, we didn’t have one in Ohio with an insurance program.”

That was in 2011. Now, because of the council’s work, there are nine schools offering bachelor’s degrees in risk management and insurance and three offering associate degrees.

“We got all the CEOs domiciled in Ohio together and had an open dialogue on here’s the challenge, and no individual company can do it on its own,” says Kaufman, whose company has 1,300 employees and writes $1 billion in annual property and casualty premiums. Collaboration has resulted in a small but growing pipeline of talent flowing into insurance, which is going through unprecedented transformation because of technology, Kaufman says.

Mark Russell, CEO of Ohio Mutual Insurance, a P&C insurer based in Bucyrus with $264 million in annual premiums, says the colleges and universities are producing fantastic candidates. “It goes beyond just the risk management programs,” says the council co-chair. “We’re trying to [reach] students of other disciplines, too.” The case to prospective employees is not a difficult one. Average pay in the insurance industry is 54 percent higher than average pay in private industry, Blaine says.

And there are a variety of jobs to be had, from investments to investigations. People can work outdoors flying drones or stick to a 9-to-5 office gig and coach junior football every Saturday. “The kids say, ‘So you’re telling me I can make more money, there’s tons of jobs and I can work in any part of the insurance company? Sign me up,’ ” Blaine says.

Katy Smith is the editor of Columbus CEO.

Businesses: Encova, Nationwide, Grange, Ohio Mutual, Cincinnati Insurance, Buckeye Insurance, National Interstate, Celina Insurance, Mennonite Mutual, Wayne Mutual, Hylant, Central Insurance, Westfield.

Educational institutions: Ohio Dominican University, Franklin University, Columbus State Community College, Kent State University, Bowling Green, University of Akron, University of Cincinnati, Ohio Northern, Heidelberg University, Clark State Community College, Owens Community College

Ohio Insurance Industry Resource Council