The Generational MashupBridging the gap in today’s actuarial workforce February/March 2019
Imagine this: a workplace devoid of the internet, email, iPhones or texting. For some actuaries, it doesn’t take much imagining, because we lived it! For others, it is difficult to picture, because it is either a faint memory or a workplace we’ve never experienced.
Why does this matter? The digital transformation of the past 30 years is symbolic of a shift in workplace culture across generations. Think about it this way—how are you most likely to talk to your coworker? By phone, email or text? How you answer this question may reveal your generation.
Today’s workplace is a generational mashup, where coworkers must come together to bridge the gap. First there are the baby boomers, who have deep institutional knowledge and are familiar with “the way we’ve always done it.” Then there are recent college graduates, the millennials, and those who will soon follow, Generation Z, with youthful enthusiasm and the ability to boil ideas down to 280 characters. And, of course, smack dab in the middle of it all are the Gen-Xers. This generational mashup presents a challenge for actuarial leaders, who must consider how to best utilize and develop talent along all aspects of the generational spectrum.
As three actuaries with experience in the industry ranging from three months to eight years to more than three decades, we, the writers of this article, offer our insights and identify challenges for both leaders and new actuaries. We advise on how to not only navigate but also appreciate the ever-evolving landscape of generational attitudes, expectations and desires. We structure our reflections and recommendations around three key stages in every actuary’s career trajectory: onboarding, growth and advancement.
Now more than ever, individuals are choosing to work for organizations that reflect their personal values. This trend is even more pronounced among millennials, who seek employment opportunities not only by job description, but also by factoring an organization’s mission and purpose into the process. CNBC reports that nearly nine out of 10 millennials would consider taking a pay cut to work for a company whose values match their own.1 It is important that employers are cognizant of this perspective as they look to attract fresh talent.
Helping teams connect their work to an organization’s mission and purpose is now required for senior actuarial leaders. This allows team members to feel a stronger sense of inclusion and pride in the organization through their day-to-day tasks. In addition, leaders should make sure their teams and potential hires are aware of their company’s investments in their communities and employees. Taking time to create this link can pay dividends in attracting and retaining young talent.
When seeking a job opportunity, actuaries who are new to the field should pursue organizations that align with their values and ideals. Doing so will help ensure long-term job satisfaction and stronger performance.
With many qualified candidates in the mix, hiring managers have a unique opportunity and critical role in shaping the future of the actuarial profession. New hires will grow into experienced actuaries over the next 30 years. With this in mind, we challenge companies and hiring managers to hire mindfully. What skill sets are most critical and will be most needed down the line? Who will define the profession for the next generation?
Technical competency should be a given—no different than in the past, we need smart, technically capable people to join our ranks. Strong communication skills should also be a prerequisite. New hires need to be able to adeptly explain their work—in person, via email and in presentations. But we will also need actuaries who can bring unique and outside-the-box expertise, perspectives and experiences to the table.
Each of us had a unique journey to the actuarial profession. For Candace, who grew up in a rural area of Pennsylvania where there were no actuaries, it was an unexpected discussion with her high school trigonometry teacher that introduced her to an opportunity she would have never otherwise explored. For Amanda, the actuarial profession offered a strong foundation from which to pursue broader business leadership. While for Johnathon, being an actuary provides stability after years of service in the U.S. Marines. Between our two companies, Prudential and MassMutual, our list of hires includes those who have studied piano, teaching and even wildlife ecology. Our ranks include a Ph.D. in physics and an MBA from Wharton. And yes, of course, many who studied actuarial science.
Each diverse hire adds something new and valuable to the profession. To increase diversity, companies, including ours, are utilizing early outreach programs as well as partnering with organizations such as the International Association for Black Actuaries (IABA) and the Organization for Latino Actuaries (OLA) for recruitment. Veterans—who can offer a wide array of leadership skills, strong work ethic and a team-focused approach—are another talent-rich pool that historically has been overlooked.
Senior leaders must ensure their recruiters and hiring managers consider a diverse candidate slate, including those with nontraditional backgrounds that will provide teams with a greater diversity of thought. For actuaries in the process of applying to jobs, possessing strong technical skills is no longer enough. One must take on opportunities that will develop other business skills and, if possible, deepen subject-matter expertise in a unique area.
Topics on career growth point to one guiding principle: Actuaries, regardless of generation, must take ownership of their own careers. This was true 30 years ago and remains true today. We can (and should) ask our company, managers and mentors to help us develop and progress, but ultimately it is up to us to pursue the right projects, positions and leadership roles to achieve our career goals.
As such, senior leaders should urge and provide avenues for self-improvement and talent mobility. Those entering the actuarial field must understand that there is an expectation for the new generation of actuaries to be well-versed in skills beyond technical expertise. With this in mind, seeking out projects that demonstrate leadership and other relevant skills can tremendously boost a career profile.
For Johnathon, pivoting professions from a military Arabic linguist to an actuary involved returning to school. In Amanda’s case, career ownership has meant pursuing an MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, with the understanding that a business degree will serve as a strong complement to years of actuarial experience. For Candace, she applied for the role of chief actuary of international businesses at Prudential, even though she had no prior experience in that business segment. The experiences gained in that position ultimately helped prepare her to become her company’s chief actuary. The takeaway is this: Manage your career to your personalized career goals—there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
In a world of one-click ordering, live news alerts and instant validation on social media, we have become accustomed to immediate results. With this in mind, it should be no surprise that millennials, who have grown up in this culture, crave real-time feedback. Oxford Economics found millennials want feedback 50 percent more often than other employees.2 As such, traditional mid- and end-of-year reviews are becoming less effective.
Managers should instead find real-time coaching moments, such as at the conclusion of a project or immediately after a significant meeting. Actuaries who desire this feedback should take the initiative to request input, and then apply it.
Traditional mentorship is an important avenue for senior leaders to invest in the next generation and for young professionals to build a network. But now consider reverse mentoring, where young professionals mentor senior executives. When you reverse roles, everyone stands to gain. Millennials feel empowered because their voices are being heard, and senior leaders gain insights into a key demographic of their employees and customers. When you find senior leaders who are willing to humble themselves, and younger employees with the courage to speak up, you have a tangible way to extract value out of the generational mashup in which we work.
The world is moving toward automation, and actuarial work is no exception. Automation does not render actuaries obsolete, but instead allows for more time to be spent on value-added analysis—and less time spent on number-crunching. For some millennials, things may not be moving fast enough, while for some baby boomers, it’s uncomfortable to see the systems we know inside and out (e.g., APL, MS Access) going by the wayside. Yet with the rise of data science and technology, all actuaries must be willing to adapt in order to advance the field.
As a leader in today’s constantly shifting landscape, being a change agent is imperative. Leaders should strive to set the example in embracing actuarial transformation and provide a North Star for the rest of the team. In addition to being continuous learners, new actuaries must prioritize cultivating an agile mindset and harness their eagerness for automation to help organizations implement new technology.
Any new professional experience provides an opportunity to learn and broaden one’s skill set. Often there’s a tendency to think that the only time to change roles is when obtaining a promotion. But this rationale can be self-defeating, unintentionally limiting one’s ability to learn and grow. Considering lateral movements—which can provide a chance to learn about new business lines, products and markets—may further propel one’s career. Depending on career stage, frequently exploring new roles enhances adaptability and ideation.
Managers can ensure their team members have the chance to regularly acquire new knowledge by promoting talent mobility or rotational programs both within the actuarial function and in collaboration with other departments and businesses.
Actuaries trying to work their way up the ladder should prioritize lessons learned over the time spent in roles. It’s not how long you’ve worked in any one job that makes you ready for the next level—it’s how much knowledge you’ve amassed and the skills you’ve developed along the way. Try using the “one-sentence” test. Can you distill your accomplishments in a role down to one succinct and impressive sentence? If this proves difficult, then it is likely not yet time to step into a new position.
The actuarial landscape is shifting from a field of technicians toward actuaries who demonstrate a well-rounded approach to the profession, inclusive of leadership, analytical and communications skills. The actuarial community has long stressed the need for actuaries to build their communication skills, but as collaboration with nontechnical partners has become the norm, it has become even more paramount.
Taking this into account, senior leaders should encourage holistic training for their teams. Furthermore, the hiring process should prioritize well-rounded candidates who, in addition to technical expertise, possess essential soft skills or have shown the desire and ability to develop those skills.
Aspiring leaders should seize opportunities internally and externally, both within and even outside of the actuarial function, to broaden pivotal nontechnical skills. These experiences outside of the actuarial function will help expand their network and hone leadership skills in a different way than their day-to-day jobs. This could involve taking on a leadership role in an actuarial club, as Amanda did, or co-leading a management development program, which Candace did in Prudential’s domestic life business for several years.
Career advancement is arguably one of the most pronounced ways in which generations in the actuarial workforce collide. Millennials want to be rewarded quickly and fairly if they produce high-quality work, and senior leaders must find a way to meet these expectations.
Managers can boost morale and assure their teams that good work will be rewarded by establishing ample recognition opportunities and clear avenues for talent mobility and advancement among high-performing individuals. Leaders should strive to keep their young talent challenged with meaningful assignments and promote them on skills and competencies—not on time accrued. Companies that do not reconsider the path to promotion and adjust their practices will lose their most talented workers to more progressive companies.
Younger actuaries should be commended for their drive and encouraged to seek out opportunities where they can clearly demonstrate value to their organizations. Racking up a record of meaningful contributions will best prepare them for advancement and excelling at the next level. In addition, it is essential for millennials to find mentors who can offer them advice and sponsors who can advocate on their behalf, as these relationships play a key role in moving up in an organization.
As younger actuaries move around more frequently, individuals with a lengthy tenure in a role will become less common. Therefore, when succession planning, senior leaders should consider high-potential employees who possess the necessary skills but may not reside in that business unit or team. In our organizations, we’ve seen the general counsel be tapped to lead the information technology (IT) organization and a finance professional be called upon to lead the pension risk transfer business. It’s great progress to see forward-thinking talent mobility happening at the top, and we can expect this trend to take root in corporate actuarial organizations as well.
When succession planning, the bench should be expanded to include actuaries with unconventional career paths. Senior leaders can aid in this shift by investing time in grooming and equipping potential successors with foundational skills and knowledge. Similarly, actuaries on the rise should be willing to advance by exploring new arenas and bringing to bear their strengths.
Confronting the generational mashup at our companies is not easy, but it is extremely important. Addressing the shift in expectations and attitudes across generations is imperative to our success as companies and as actuaries. Regardless of your generation, each of us has a role to play in bridging the gap, and we are hopeful that this discussion will provide insights and principles (see Figure 1) to help us achieve this goal. We welcome your feedback—please feel free to call, text or tweet.
Copyright © 2019 by the Society of Actuaries, Schaumburg, Illinois.