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First Word: Casting an eye on Generation Y

First Word: Casting an eye on Generation Y

A lot of insurance industry conferences feature CEO panels, and sooner or later at most of those sessions, the moderator asks the assembled executives what keeps them up at night.

Not surprisingly, those CEOs typically raise such issues as pricing accuracy and rising exposure to natural catastrophe loss and terrorism. But at almost every one of those panels I've attended, sooner or later someone also raises the question of where the industry's going to find its next generation of talent.

Obviously there are a number of fine insurance and risk management programs at business schools around the country, and they're producing well-schooled graduates. To hear some of the experts in workforce matters talk about it, though, the issue is as much a numbers game as a question of education.

The first of the Baby Boomers are nearing retirement and Generation X is smaller in number, leaving a potentially significant hole in the personnel pool that companies are going to have to find ways to fill. And waiting in the wings is Generation Y.

Generation Y, of course, is the appellation attached to those born between 1982 and 1993, the youngsters just beginning to take their place in the workforce. In number, according to demographers, Generation Y is nearly the match of the Baby Boom in the United States, 75 million Gen Yers vs. 80 million Boomers. According to some workforce experts, though, that's where the similarity ends.

I attended an interesting program recently that examined some of the challenges associated with bringing Gen Y into the workplace at a Finance & Insurance Workforce Summit presented by the Workforce Boards of Metropolitan Chicago.

I've reported on the session more extensively elsewhere in this issue of Industry Focus, but essentially the program was an examination of some of the key issues and challenges facing insurance and financial services companies as they look to attract, develop and retain the talent needed to be competitive in the years ahead.

There were a lot of important issues discussed, and panelists presented a lot of good information. For me, though, one unmistakable takeaway was this: Someone's done a pretty good job of marketing on Generation Y's behalf.

Apparently, this group of youngsters differs so much from those that came before that it will be pretty tough to lure them to a company that doesn't offer hot and cold running Starbucks, regular MySpace breaks and a substantial iPod allowance.

Actually, I exaggerate, and it's probably exaggeration born of jealousy. I bought my own iPod, which I play at a reasonable volume, having reached a certain age at which you start looking to ensure that you can continue hearing your music at other certain ages in the future.

And I long ago had my moment of caffeine clarity regarding office coffee drinking, as I realized that regularly topping off the mug all morning meant spending the afternoon jumpy as a benny freak in some bad Beat-era novel.

Undoubtedly, insurance industry firms looking to recruit and retain Gen Y workers will need to make some changes in the nature of the workplace. Their tech savvy alone marks them as significantly different from their parents.

Maybe one perk employers will need to offer their young hires is writing coaches. According to some views aired at the Chicago workforce summit—both from the podium and from the audience—many new hires have serious problems putting words on a page.

While the computer competence and technical comfort level of Gen Yers entering the workplace is a plus, evidently many of those under 25s have writing issues as a result of growing up used to the informality of e-mail correspondence and text messaging.

Employers aren't LOL about that.