Insurance is a dusty old industry, they say. It's not for young people, they say. But that's just not true. The insurance industry is out to change younger generations' perceptions about insurance, especially as hiring fresh talent becomes a front-and-center issue due to waves of retirees.

So what's an agency to do? We spoke to three insurance professionals for fresh insights on how insurance agencies recruit and train talent in today's environment: Dustyne Bryant, MBA, CIC, CISR, personal lines academic director for the National Alliance for Insurance Education and Research; Nikki Brandt, CPCU, AU, AIS, AINS, founder and president, NB Talent; and Phyllis Brumfield, agency owner, Brumfield Insurance Agency.

Read on for their takes on setting your agency up for a very bright future by providing mentorship and sponsorship to help young recruits tap into their professional purpose and passion, looking outside the industry and within the community for new hires, and focusing on diversity and inclusion.

1. Help Talent Find Purpose and Passion Within Insurance

Dustyne Bryant worked for 15 years in different insurance industry positions. Her "aha" moment came with the help of an instructor at the National Alliance for Insurance Education and Research.

"The instructor, who eventually became my mentor, was talking about education like it's exciting," Bryant says. That instructor encouraged Bryant to get her various professional designations.

"It wasn't about promoting me in terms of a title but promoting my drive," explains Bryant. "Let's see what else you can do. He pushed me outside my comfort zone, and there was no fear of failure."

This experience showed Bryant the importance of mentorship and sponsorship. Along the way, her mentor helped Bryant find her purpose and passion, which she feels is critical in employers helping employees have successful careers. In fact, now more than ever, job seekers are craving positions that mean something to them, with their work providing value and fulfillment.

"Once I found my purpose, my passion, there was a shift in me regarding work/life balance. There is no work/life balance — there is life balance because I discovered my passion within insurance, so for me, it isn't work anymore. It is everything to me. This isn't to say work is my entire life, but all of it works within my life and is now my passion."

Bryant says that instead of having new entrants in the industry focus on numbers to define success, such as growing a book of business by x number of dollars, help them find their passion, and the results will come. It's more of an emotional approach.

"New hires see numbers as the goal that will make them successful, as this is what they are being told. When they don't hit those numbers, they lose their footing. They feel as if they don't fit in, which means they can't find their purpose and passion and end up leaving," says Bryant.

Instead, help talent find their place, purpose and passion so they want to stay in the industry.

2. Educate, Be Open-Minded and Be Flexible

Nikki Brandt is a big believer in educating people and letting them know about the opportunities available in the industry.

"When I first started in insurance, I quickly learned it's a people and relationship business, whether you're working in underwriting, risk control, claims, sales, marketing, or most any other sector in the industry," says Brandt. "I don't think people realize this. If more people realized insurance is a fun job — a people business — they would become a part of the industry."

Brandt emphasizes the importance of sharing opportunities with individuals coming out of school and also believes that agencies should look outside the industry for producers and account managers.

"I have had many conversations with new producer prospects from other industries," explains Brandt. "I tell them, what if you had a product or service that provided recurring revenue, would pay you every year as long as you took care of the accounts, and the position required some expertise? It'll take some time up front to learn the industry, but you'll be able to position yourself as an expert and demonstrate you're better than the next person because you know your stuff."

Too many hiring managers at insurance agencies, Brandt says, are focused on experience, the résumé and credentials.

"They should be more focused on personality. If you find the right person who is a go-getter, has great attributes for a position and could easily learn the industry, hire him or her."

Of course, it's a challenge for agency owners to put resources into training non-insurance hires.

"It's not that agents can't or don't want to train new hires — they don't have the programs to do so," says Brandt. As a result, agents fight over the same "plug-and-play" candidates to fill positions. Those who go outside the box and provide the training will be better suited to finding the talent they need.

For example, Brandt recommended that one of her agency clients hire someone in the hospitality industry after he was unsuccessful in finding the right match.

"I recommended an awesome, incredibly smart, super ambitious and reliable individual. She had a personality that makes you feel good, which I thought would translate quite well to a customer service position in the agency. He interviewed and loved her. Next month will be one year she's been with the agency, and she's one of his best hires."

Another important aspect of recruiting individuals is providing flexibility.

"Post pandemic, everyone, including the younger generation, has reassessed what they want from a career," Brandt notes. "They'll get the job done but want to do it differently, on their terms. Some companies recognize this, while others want staff back in the office full-time. Flexibility will enable agencies to attract younger talent, which some other industries have already been able to do successfully."

Brandt says she won't be surprised if eventually there is a shift in our industry, with many individuals working on a contract (1099) basis.

3. Be Community-Focused and Inclusive

Phyllis Brumfield, whose agency is in Stockbridge, Georgia, believes it's important to look within your community for employees and to hire individuals from all walks of life and educational backgrounds.

"We have Army bases in Georgia, so I service where I work, play and pray," says Brumfield. "It's important to me that I am a very inclusive agent, and I include everyone who has the ability to work in the agency. This includes veterans and those with disabilities within the community."

Brumfield's commitment to having a diverse and inclusive staff is close to home. Her dad was an Army vet, and she has a daughter and son-in-law who are disabled vets. Brumfield's daughter joined the agency while also attending and graduating from law school.

As a Black woman in the insurance industry, she also knows first-hand the lack of diversity in our industry and how important it is to change this with the younger generation coming in.

"I've always been in a room of 200 agents where 10 agents of color were in attendance. But, back in August, I attended the National African American Insurance Association (NAAIA) conference where there were more than 500 people there, and everyone in the room was of color," says Brumfield. "How phenomenal is that? The room was filled with people of color who own agencies and hold high positions at insurance companies — carriers with which I want to work."

The narrative that companies cannot find people of color to work in the insurance industry isn't valid, says Brumfield. "I want to work with companies that can find a person of color, a disabled veteran in Georgia. If they don't, I choose not to work with those companies."

Brumfield also shares Brandt's stance that the insurance industry needs to promote itself better.

"Unfortunately, [the fact that] insurance as a great career opportunity isn't taught in junior or senior high school and is rarely taught in college. But it's an excellent way to create generational wealth and financial security and for people to get involved in their communities," says Brumfield.

Insurance is also about meeting people and engaging and helping them. When Brumfield's nephew came to work at the agency this past summer, he fell in love with the industry's ideology of helping people, so much so that he applied for his broker's license.

Brumfield underscores her desire to see more young people, veterans, disabled people and diverse individuals make up the insurance industry.

"Just a nice rainbow of people — different genders, races and abilities. Because a disability isn't a disability — it's just the ability to do something differently. If our industry can get out of that in-the-box mentality where we're not just checking a box but genuinely moving the needle, we'll attract more people and make even more of a difference."