Millennials Have Spoken, Will You Listen?
Altering insurance training programs to attract younger generations
By Storm Wilkins , Binhua Xie
This modern era of rapid changes in technology, the rise of the sharing economy, and “Netflix and chill” is defined by those born in the 1980s and 1990s—the millennial generation that is redefining traditional paradigms every day.
The impact of millennials is also being felt keenly in the workplace. In 2015, this age group surpassed Generation X to become the largest generation in the American workforce. For all segments of the economy, this shift requires organizations to reevaluate teaching and training methods in order to ensure they are well-suited for their modern workforce.
In the insurance industry, the staid traditional methods of instruction are often ineffective with millennials. The proper interpretation of our industry’s product—the insurance policy contract—is mission-critical. Millennials will flee if the instruction consists of a senior insurance professional reviewing the policy and merely informing them of the coverage outcomes. And, they will absolutely bolt out the door if, heaven forbid, the coverage “training” consists of the company lawyer reading squibs from legal opinions for an hour.
In his article, “How to Engage Millennials: Five Important Moves,” John Laskaris discusses the reasons why some young trainees complain about training materials. He notes that training materials geared toward the millennial learners’ strengths resulted in improved learning outcomes. How does the learning style of younger workers differ from their more experienced colleagues?
According to a study done by Arlene Nicolas, “Preferred Learning Methods of Millennial Generation,” this younger group is much more collaborative than previous generations. Millennials were included in decision making from young ages. They are more tech savvy than their predecessors. They enjoy experiential, interactive, and peer-to-peer learning. Millennials prefer a mix of activities, small bits of information, and in-class problem solving.
As a full-time college professor, I taught insurance coverage analysis to over 430 students from the fall of 2015 through the fall of 2017. The courses included over a dozen commercial property and casualty policy forms and over 45 hours of classroom instruction. At the conclusion of the course, I distributed an anonymous written survey asking the students what made it easier or more effective for them to learn insurance coverage analysis. This article includes feedback from those surveys.
First and foremost, the respondents all agreed that while a textbook or some other writing, such as professional designation course materials, can break down the policy provisions, the most effective method for building the students’ confidence was to have them review and apply an actual policy to an issue. While this may seem like a no brainer, many of the students who have had opportunities to work at companies for part-time jobs or summer internships noted that, during training sessions they attended on coverage issues, the policies were often nowhere in sight.
When building an effective training program, use the policy. Ensure that your team is capable of obtaining the correct policy for the claim. Read the actual policy during the training—it may be the only time that it is read. The trainees will enjoy becoming more comfortable with the policy, and it will increase the learner’s confidence. Hopefully, after effective training, the trainees will think to themselves, “If I can read this policy, I can read others. I do not have to ask my supervisor or coverage counsel every time.” Thus, the effective training will save time and money, and increase productivity.
In her article, “The Art and Skill of Analyzing Coverage,” Elise Farnham notes, “By using a systematic approach to coverage analysis, the claim[s] professional will be able to reach an educated opinion as to whether or not coverage applies and will be able to support that decision.”
When designing coverage training, the instructor must provide learners with a systematic method for the analysis. There are a number of systematic methods available. For example, DICE, as many readers may recall, involves reviewing the declarations, then the insuring agreement, the policy conditions, and finally the exclusions, in that precise order.
All of the millennial survey respondents agreed that having specific instruction and, in some instances, a job aid that outlines a systematic policy review process increases their confidence in their abilities to perform this critical part of the insurance professional’s job.
In response to the question, “What, if anything, makes learning about insurance policies easier?” in the fall of 2016, one student responded, “It requires studying on a regular basis to ensure you get it correctly.” In the corporate environment, this may translate to creating a “coverage culture.”
Instead of having a training class one day and not considering the skill again until the next class, coverage instruction and skill-building must continuously be a part of a trainee’s environment. For example, because millennials enjoy learning in small bites, perhaps a Coverage Question of the Day that pops up on the professionals’ computers, along with a coverage tip for the day, would aid in the ongoing instruction.
An instructional design that focuses on a lecture-style format with an instructor imparting reams of knowledge to millennial learners tends to be ineffective. While baby boomers and, to a lesser extent, Gen Xers were raised in such an educational environment, millennial learners are less accustomed to that kind of presentation. They want to ask questions and receive answers during the session, otherwise they are not engaged.
In addition to interacting with the facilitator, millennial learners want to interact with one another. When asked, “What in-class activities assisted you most in learning to critically analyze policy coverage? What are any others you can suggest?” nearly every respondent praised one of the course’s collaborative exercises. Students offered such responses as, “I liked it when we worked in pairs for the CGL policy limits question,” “I usually study in groups. Talking out loud is the best way,” and “The exercise we did prior to exam one, where we got into groups and reviewed claims and decided if they were covered or not, was very helpful.”
In the professional training environment, working collaboratively creates an excellent opportunity for more experienced professionals to pair with their less experienced colleagues. The opportunity to work through problems together benefits everyone in the multi-generational workplace.
The student respondents all agreed that the use of hypothetical questions and games made learning about insurance policies much easier. In order to increase the effectiveness, the hypothetical questions should be fun!
The students enjoyed real-life examples that were, in essence, ripped from the news headlines. Facilitators should check out social media. Chances are, whatever is trending can be made into an effective and memorable hypothetical question for the students to resolve (often collaboratively).
These types of questions can also enhance the “coverage culture.” The training and development professional can work with the subject matter expert to have “questions du jour,” which teams can address for a few minutes each day. At the end of the month or quarter, there could be prizes for whichever team earns the most points with its responses.
Coverage training also lends itself to a wide variety of other games and learning exercises. Students in my classes compete in “issue spotting” exercises, where a long coverage scenario is presented and students working independently or together compete to see who can identify the most number of policy issues presented by the facts.
In addition to favoring teamwork, millennials also favor technology in their learning environments. The advantage is that the student is very comfortable accessing information on the web in order to tackle a coverage question. The disadvantage is that not all of the information available is relevant and reliable. Inexperienced insurance professionals may rely on the first result of their electronic search. Initially, they are not able to discern between good sources and less reliable information. Wikipedia and plaintiff counsel blogs are not always the best references for making a correct coverage determination.
Therefore, an integral part of training and development in this area is to expose the less experienced professionals to appropriate resources for answering insurance contract issues. The instructional designers should work with the subject matter experts to develop good lists of reliable resources for solving future coverage issues. Some of those resources provided to the trainees could include job aids that break down your policy sections or job aids for the policy exclusions. Millennials enjoy feeling empowered with the correct resources.
While there are many significant considerations in designing coverage training geared to the millennial professional, the most important aspect is to make it fun.