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Building a workforce for the future

Source: Asia Insurance Review | Jul 2018

Asia Life & Health Property & Casualty C-Suite

Insurers will need to chart their course carefully to navigate through the current talent gap in their quest to transform into an organisation that can excel into the future. 
By Ridwan Abbas
As insurance companies undertake digital transformation, it follows that the skillsets required to run an insurance operation effectively would also evolve. Talent acquisition teams are responsible for finding people with new types of technical skills to accommodate the growing usage of big data analytics, social media platforms and mobile devices.
Not surprisingly, human capital and talent management is a top priority of most organisations to ensure proper alignment to business strategy to help meet existing and future business needs, says Aon Hewitt. 
And given that digital permeates almost every function of an organisation, insurers are not just competing with their peers for the best talent, as in the past, but with other industries as well. 
‘Hot’ skills and bridging the talent gap
In a recent report, Aon Hewitt stated that core skills such as agility, collaboration and virtual working are increasingly valued, as is expertise in areas such as AI and machine learning.
On top of that, critical thinking, creativity and openness to change are highly desirable behavioural traits in this new digital world. 
Given there has not been much change in how the insurance business operates, the move towards a more digital future that many insurers are undertaking could result in a ‘talent gap’ emerging. But it is hardly a challenge unique to the insurance sector. 
In a recent survey by Capgemini, 50% of companies said they realise that mobile is one of two most important skills for digital transformation. However, over 80% of these companies face a talent shortage in mobile. In this case, mobile skills encompass design skill such as user-interface and gamification as well as technical skills such as app development, cloud services, mobile device management and security.
Similarly, in a survey conducted with US executives, over 85% mentioned that they have a big data initiative planned or in progress; however, only 21% rated their company’s analytics capabilities as ‘more than adequate’ or ‘world class’. 
Within the insurance context, research by Aon Hewitt suggests that hiring trends in insurance in recent times is becoming more skewed towards functions such as technology and analytics compared to compared to roles in compliance or actuarial (see table 1). 
Notable trends – Likelihood of increasing staff
Marrying the technical with business
But it is also important to note that employees equipped with these digital skills would also need to complement them with some business acumen. For instance, the value of analytics stems from an organisation’s ability to operationalise those insights.
“This is leading to a growing demand for individuals who possess technical skills along with business strategy and leadership abilities,” said Capgemini in a recent report. 
However, filling an organisation with employees with such skills is never easy, although there are two things worth bearing in mind as executives prepare to build a workforce of the future. 
1) Making the industry appealing to Gen Y 
To attract this younger and more nimble workforce, insurers will need to stand out from the crowd and compete with other ‘sexier’ industries. Thus, developing and promoting their employer brand will be a big thing for insurers in the future in order to attract the best candidates. 
And one thing worth noting is that millennials tend to ascribe an aspirational element to their job, and the industry’s sense of purpose and social good is seen as an advantage. 
A recent EY study titled ‘Talent strategy: Designing a workforce for the future of insurance’, noted that employees are three times more likely to stay with a purpose-driven company than one whose principal goal is to make money, and participants universally agreed that the insurance industry’s sense of mission and purpose is an important and underutilised asset in attracting and retaining talented workers.
2) Effective knowledge transfer
The EY report also noted that the ability to quickly and effectively to transfer knowledge will be key. 
“Part of the reason long-tenured employees are so valuable is that they hold the keys to the institutional-knowledge kingdom. As they retire and are replaced by employees who may be more transitory, companies must improve knowledge-capture and transfer,” said the report. 
Coupled with the fact that automation could eliminate jobs that would, in the past, have allowed junior employees to gain experience, the ability to effectively train employees who will increasingly come from non-insurance backgrounds will be critical. 
The report noted that that insurance industry “doesn’t have a culture of bringing in data scientists or machine learning experts, or a structure that can bring them in and quickly train them in the industry, and get them up to speed”. 
This would have to change if companies want to retain that insurance know-how and nous, while bringing in employees with a new profile. A 
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