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Insurance Internships Push Students To Think Beyond Ducks And Geckos

Sierra Roberts and a coworker collaborate at the Ohio Mutual office space in Bucyrus, Ohio. [Rivet / WOSU]
Sierra Roberts and a coworker collaborate at the Ohio Mutual office space in Bucyrus, Ohio.

Sierra Roberts knew the jingles and taglines about insurance. It’s that thing you pay for now in case something goes wrong later. It’s those commercials constantly clamoring for our attention.

But like most young people, Roberts didn’t have to deal with insurance until she started driving.

“I probably first figured out what insurance was around the age of 16 or 17 when I first started learning how to drive and I purchased my first car,” Roberts says. “I didn’t really see a need for it and was thinking, you know, why pay all this money each month when there’s no guarantee that you’re ever going to get into an accident or you’ll have to reach out to your insurer or agent?”

Knowing what insurance does and being familiar with the commercials is one thing, but seeing insurance as a place where you can work is another. In Ohio, it’s estimated that insurance companies will need 29,000 new employees in the next 5 years.

Our state is the seventh largest employer of insurance workers in the nation. But the industry is facing a hiring challenge, what Forbes magazine calls a “coolness problem.”

According to one study, 75% of millennials consider insurance boring, too boring to make it a career. Working in the industry can have a big payoff, though: In 2015, the average Ohioan working in insurance got over $71,000and a competitive benefit package.

Ohio Mutual Insurance Group in Bucyrus, Ohio. [Rivet / WOSU]

Working for a business like the one that collected her monthly car insurance payment never crossed Roberts’ mind. She lives in Shelby, Ohio, a small town about an hour’s drive northeast of Columbus.

Roberts loves living there, but she always assumed she’d have to move for her career. Until her dad suggested she look for opportunities at an insurance company in the area.

“My dad kind of instantly brought up, ‘Wow, you should see if Ohio Mutual is offering any internships,’” Roberts says. “So I looked for an internship and I applied, ended up getting the position.”

Employers offer internships to that give students and graduates a chance to try a particular job and add work experience to their resume. They last anywhere from a couple months to a year, can be either paid or unpaid, and occasionally lead to jobs at the end.

The insurance industry in particular uses internships as a recruitment tool.

Sierra Roberts takes notes during a meeting at Ohio Mutual. [Rivet / WOSU]

Dani Johnson is the Associate Vice President of Talent Acquisition at Nationwide Insurance based here in Columbus, Ohio. She’s in charge of recruitment for the company, and says finding people to work in insurance is hard, especially in IT.

“IT is a place where - depending on the technology - it can be really difficult for us to attract talent, because they’re generally sitting on the different coasts,” Johnson says.

Dani says that to attract new workers, the industry needs to spread the word that insurance is more than just call centers. Companies require people with diverse skill sets in areas ranging from actuarial science to software development to communications. And not all of these positions require a four-year degree.

After graduating high school in 2016, Roberts started at Ohio Mutualas an intern in the Information Systems Department. Following her internship, she continued working as a trainee while completing college courses with financial help from Ohio Mutual - avoiding debt while starting her career.

Sierra Roberts at her desk at Ohio Mutual in Bucyrus, Ohio. [Rivet / WOSU]

After Roberts finished her associate’s degree, the company hired her full time as a programmer.

Now she works in an open bright office space as part of a team that makes the website more accessible to both customers and employees. Ohio Mutual is a property and casualty insurance business, and its rural location means that many farmers are clients.

Robert says she enjoys both her work and how she helps her community, 

“I really love the people that I work with and just the different opportunities that I’ve been given here to do new things,” she says. “Really keeps me wanting to come back, and you know, I just really enjoy what I do, even though it is considered insurance.”

Now Roberts sees insurance as more than just that annoying monthly fee you pay to drive your car. And the insurance industry hopes that internships and competitive benefits will help young people see insurance as more than just silly commercials with ducks and geckos.

This story comes from the  Rivet podcast, which is part of  American Graduate, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.