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Mar 07

Youth Movement For State’s Insurers Hungry For Workers – Hartford Courant

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Rachel Stein, in her last year at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University with a double major of accounting and business information systems, landed job offers from PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Manhattan and Cigna in Bloomfield.

She choose Cigna, despite the fact that her friends were moving to New York and she didn’t know a soul in Connecticut.

“It was an obvious decision, but not an easy decision,” said Stein, who was impressed by Cigna’s commitment to young employees.

Every year, the major insurance companies in the region are looking for hundreds of fresh graduates to make the same decision Stein did in 2014. While the insurers don’t have the kind of graying demographic Connecticut manufacturers have, the cresting wave of baby boomer retirements is injecting their college recruiting efforts with new urgency. To fill jobs, insurers are working hard to better explain the opportunities they offer and to attract future employees through internships.

“About 50 percent of our external hires were Generation Y in 2015,” said Kathleen Gioffree, vice president of talent acquisition for Aetna, which has about 49,600 employees around the country. Generation Y, or millennials, are younger workers born in the early 1980s through the early 2000s. They now make up about 24 percent of Aetna’s workforce.

Cigna is clearly trying to frame itself as a quirky company — in its suburban office building, name tags on cubicles and doors, instead of having titles underneath, have mottoes: “Let’s go”; “Yes, I have a minute; or “All ears.'”

At PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Stein had the typical interviews. Stein had the usual interviews at Cigna, but also found herself in a room with other candidates, where she was given bags of pasta, marshmallows, jelly beans and licorice and told to build something.

And significantly, Stein said her position at Cigna’s Bloomfield campus is about technology, not insurance.

“I don’t touch the insurance side with a 10-foot-pole,” said Stein, who parlayed curiosity about virtual reality technologies into a business liaison position with software developers working on virtual reality environments that aid meditation.

Explaining Insurance

When The Hartford conducted a survey of people 18 to 34, asking them where they would like to work, just 4 percent of respondents placed insurance among their top three choices. Nationwide, 73 percent of young adults said insurance was boring, and 51 percent said the companies only care about making money.

In the Northeast, 8 percent of young adults ranked insurance highly.

Recognizing this, local insurers have been working hard to break the stereotypes of the business.

“I think when students stop to think about what happens in insurance and financial services, they find it much more interesting than they might have thought,” said Marietta Cozzi, vice president of staffing at Prudential. “When companies start to explain the core of their business, that makes a huge difference. I’m not saying that’s easy. That takes time. I’m not saying it’s one blog post, one post on Facebook, one visit to a college.”

Nicole Hughey, director of talent acquisition at Travelers, said the message her company is working to get through to students is: “It’s not just about the numbers. How do you help get people back on their feet?”

It’s not just a company-by-company effort, either. The MetroHartford Alliance’s Insurance and Financial Services Cluster hosts a college career fair every January for both prospective interns and employees. In 2016, 515 students attended from 100 schools, up from 361 students four years ago.

Susan Winkler, the cluster’s head, said that by holding the fair during winter break, Hartford has a chance at bringing back young adults going to college out of state.

She said while she knows some people think young applicants would consider insurance not very sexy, or not challenging, “that kind of brand issue is not as prevalent as you might think, and as people say.”

Winkler said that these careers are “extremely lucrative,” and that once students and young professionals “see inside, then they know it’s where they want to be.”

Those determined efforts are working. The Hartford has more young adults in its Connecticut workforce — 28 percent — than their share in the state’s working-age population.

Cindy Ryan, vice president of talent acquisition at Cigna, said health care appeals to those early in their careers, and they see working at Cigna as an opportunity to make a difference. “It brings meaning to their work,” she said. The company recruits at 55 universities, including Eastern Connecticut State, UConn, Temple University and Drexel.

One of the ways major insurers have tried to win the recruiting game in an environment where fresh grads have competing offers is to use internships as tryouts, a change from just a few years ago. Last year, Cigna hired 380 graduates, with 210 of them former interns and 175 from Connecticut. Typically around 90 percent of former interns accept jobs.

At many local companies, the job offers come either in August or September, long before the student will graduate in May, because by then, students may have accepted other jobs.

Two years ago, Aetna revamped its university recruiting program. Aetna had 164 college interns around the country last year and extended job offers to nearly 80 percent of the students who were seniors, and 84 percent of those accepted. About 60 percent who did an internship before their junior years agreed to come back the next summer.

Navi Cheema, 25, started at The Hartford right after graduating from the University of Connecticut with a business management degree. Cheema interned with AT&T in New Jersey one summer, and said The Hartford made more of an effort to create camaraderie among its interns — Cheema roomed downtown with other interns, and two of them also ended up joining the company after graduation.

Cheema was given a spot in a leadership development program, and did rotations in operations, data analysis, IT project management and as a designer of training courses for its employees. After three years of rotations, she chose to return to the training program.

She said one of the best things about working at The Hartford is that it’s invested in helping its employees.

“I really enjoy Connecticut. I think there’s a little bit of something for everyone in Hartford,” said Cheema, who grew up in New Jersey. “You have your beautiful cities like Hartford and New Haven. Every season, there’s something to do outside. If you ever need a change of pace, Boston and New York City are relatively close.”

Hartford Can Be Harder Sell

Sometimes, insurers have to overcome not only perceptions about insurance, but also Hartford’s appeal as a place for young people to live compared to some bigger cities.

Hughey, of Travelers, said while the company brings hires from out of town, “no matter if it’s Hartford or any other location, [people starting their careers] tend to stay in the area where they go to school, or where they grew up.”

When she’s pitching Hartford to outsiders, “we talk about our proximity to other cities.”

Since her graduation from Lehigh and arriving in Connecticut, Stein has traveled to Spain and China promoting the virtual reality product that was developed by Cigna in Minnesota.

“I love Connecticut. It has definitely wooed me,” she said. She said she finds a sense of community, becoming a regular at restaurants in West Hartford. “I love calling myself an impostor Connecticutian.”

Stein said she has no regrets about missing out on the big city experience, even as she said, “I love New York City. It’s phenomenal for a visit.” Of her friends there, she said, “None of them are accomplishing things the way I am here. There’s a hint of jealousy.”

Source: Youth Movement For State’s Insurers Hungry For Workers – Hartford Courant

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