Perpetuating the industry
InVEST helps move insurance to the top of the careers list
By Dennis H. Pillsbury
dWe've all seen the statistics and they are frightening for a growing industry like insurance. Many of our most talented people are reaching retirement age and, although some are staying for a while longer thanks to an economic downturn that decimated their retirement savings, that is only a brief respite. And it is one that could create even greater problems as those who delayed retirement join those who hit their golden age during better economic times, resulting in even greater losses sometime in the future.
The numbers indicate that the insurance industry will need to bring in approximately 90,000 new hires every year for quite some time to replace some 1.3 million people who will be retiring during the next two decades, as well as filling new positions as the industry continues to expand.
At the same time, attracting people to the industry is not easy as insurance has not exactly been the first choice for young people entering the job market. And that is reflected in the offerings of colleges and universities across the country, where there are only some 92 full-time insurance and risk management programs available. Those programs will produce fewer than 10,000 students a year—a far cry from the 90,000 needed.
Fortunately, the landscape is changing, thanks in large part to InVEST, a program sponsored by the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA). And Lindsey Shank, CIC, this year's winner of the Dach Award, exemplifies the kind of talent that InVEST has attracted to the insurance industry. The award honors an insurance industry volunteer who has made tremendous contribution in fostering the growth and development of InVEST. It is named in memory of the program's founder, Stephen Dach.
"Without InVEST exposure, I probably wouldn't be in insurance," admits Lindsey, who is now an 11-year insurance veteran and has risen to become assistant agency manager and assistant vice president at BB&T Iler Wall & Shonter Insurance in St. Petersburg, Florida. And she's very glad that InVEST came along. In fact, she is working hard to see that more students are exposed to the opportunities offered by an insurance career by volunteering her time as an outside instructor for the InVEST course offered at her former high school, St. Petersburg Catholic, home of the Barons.
"I wanted to give back to the program," Lindsey explains.
A fortunate accident
Like many of us who have found ourselves in the insurance industry, Lindsey's entry was not premeditated. When she entered her junior year at St. Petersburg Catholic, she had her electives all picked out and Business Dynamics was not on her list. However, her guidance counselor informed her that not all her electives were available, but Business Dynamics was. Well, it was worth a try.
During the first semester, the students ran a little breakfast store, Baron Bagel Bistro, and sold to the students. InVEST was introduced during the second semester and "my eyes were completely opened," Lindsey remembers. "All the ins and outs of the insurance transaction were fascinating. I thought it was a wonderful class where we learned by doing. As my junior year came to an end, there was no doubt in my mind that InVEST would be on my schedule the next year."
But that decision wasn't sufficient. Lindsey also became an unofficial cheerleader for the program, telling other students about "the numerous positives of the program and what a dynamic class it was." Thanks in large part to her efforts, the class size nearly doubled and two periods were needed rather than one.
The other part of the successful team that has championed the growth of InVEST at St. Petersburg Catholic is the teacher, Gary Preston, who is the InVEST director and business chairman at the high school. With the help of insurance professionals in the area, Gary was able to put together a program that "sets kids in the right direction. I allow the students to take ownership of the program and learn from their mistakes and enjoy their triumphs," Gary notes.
He adds, "You can tell that it's a different kind of learning experience when you walk into the classroom, because it's not really a classroom; there are offices set up from which the students operate their own agencies or insurance company home office. Today, it's probably the most popular course in our school." Clear evidence of this is the fact that there are now 100 students in three classes and there's a waiting list of students who want to get in. "That wasn't always true," Gary recalls. "When I started the program 17 years ago, there were only 19 students in one class."
An interesting part of the program is how it also mimics business life in that students can get promotions when they perform well. In her junior year, Lindsey's position was an administrative assistant to the home office. When she returned as a senior, she was home office manager.
As she notes, her first position "allowed me to familiarize myself with automobile insurance forms, deepened my communication skills and intensified my organizational skills." Her new position reinforced those concepts but also helped her acquire "more skills in relating with individuals and delegating work. I also learned that teamwork is one of the most important ingredients in making any enterprise a success."
Volunteers make it work
Lindsey adds that one of the unique aspects of the program was the use of guest speakers. "Agents, underwriters and police officers were only some of the professions of the classroom presenters." And today, one of those guest speakers is often an assistant agency manager named Lindsey.
"I really want InVEST to grow so more students are exposed to the tremendous opportunities available in the insurance industry," Lindsey says. "So it was only natural for me to volunteer my time wherever it would do the most good."
As Gary pointed out in his letter recommending her for the Dach Award: "Lindsey is the type of professional who gives of herself when it comes to making a contribution both in and out of the classroom. The projects and activities that she has managed for our InVEST program are too many to mention. Her attention to detail and unending dedication to volunteering in my classroom goes beyond what you would expect of any true professional. She makes a daily contribution to high school students.
"If I were to look back on the success of our InVEST program for the past 15 years, I would have to say that we are able to have a winning program because of the contributions people like Lindsey have made to the program.
"I am really proud of our program," Gary continues. "We have the support of the school, allowing us the flexibility to do something outside the box. And we have tremendous support from the insurance community. A lot of agents make the one-hour drive from Tampa to participate in the program. Insurance company people and police officers take time from their busy schedules to come and help out. And they also provide another important ingredient—summer jobs and afternoon jobs for these students."
In fact, that's how Lindsey got her start at Iler Wall and Shonter. "After graduation I was looking for a job. I had actually had a mock interview with Claire Shonter as part of the InVEST class and she remembered me and offered me a job as administrative assistant. I was able to continue working part time while attending the University of South Florida as a finance major."
A model for others
One of the spillovers of a successful InVEST program is its infectious influence on other schools. "When other schools hear that our business course is our most popular class, they want to know what we're doing right," Gary says. "I've shared our program with a number of other schools in the state and am pleased at the response."
Also of great interest to schools are the opportunities for InVEST scholarships to help students pay for a college education. "I won scholarships from the local, state and national programs," Lindsey says, "and it really helped me pay for college."
Gary proudly points out that "last year's graduating class saw 17 students win a total of $26,000 in InVEST scholarships.
"Most of the students who take the course do go on to college," he continues. "In addition to the scholarships, we also have reached an articulation agreement with St. Petersburg College where graduates of the course get three college credits."
In addition to volunteering at St. Petersburg Catholic, Lindsey also works with the Florida Association of Insurance Agents to put together an annual "Teach the Teachers" event. "We had 35 people attend this year's convocation and they shared ideas about ways to start a program and how to keep one running and improving," Lindsey says. "The best news to come out of that is that two new schools are starting an InVEST program this year. I would really like to see that expansion and interest continue throughout all InVEST programs nationwide."
InVEST is a unique program that educates high school and community college students on insurance, financial services and risk management and encourages them to pursue careers in the industry. InVEST is a partnership between schools and local businesses to help strengthen local communities and change students' lives. A 501(c)(3), InVEST is supported by financial contributions from insurance companies, agents, and organizations.What began at a local high school in Los Angeles in 1970 has evolved into a financial literacy program in 39 states with local insurance professionals as volunteers in classrooms. This year, InVEST celebrates 40 years of success. Reaching out to high schools and postsecondary institutions across the country, InVEST has helped lay the groundwork for lifelong professional success for thousands of students and awarded $378,497 in scholarships over the past 10 years.
For more information visit www.investprogram.org.