University-Industry Engagement Week

Ole Miss partners with HBCUs to tackle “workforce cliff” in insurance industry

By David Schwartz
Published: March 21st, 2023

A detailed article on the partnership between Ole Miss, multiple insurance companies, and the state’s HBCUs, designed to both increase diversity in the industry and address a looming talent shortage, appears in the March issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, click here.

Last fall, the University of Mississippi announced a program intended to address a workforce shortage and a lack of diversity in the insurance industry by partnering with agents, brokers, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The program comes at a time when insurance companies are experiencing the kind of historic personnel shortages that result when an industry’s retirements significantly outnumber its new hires.

“In general, the industry is looking at a pretty massive workforce cliff,” says Hughes Miller, director of corporate giving and business engagement at Ole Miss. At the same time, he adds, “the people in the profession don’t fully reflect the communities they serve. We are trying to build a diverse pipeline.”

To do that, Ole Miss has teamed up with the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers (CIAB) in Washington, DC, several regional powerhouse insurers, and Mississippi’s HBCUs.

“Our most recent initiative is focused on increasing diversity in the risk management and insurance space,” explains finance professor Andre Liebenberg, PhD, a chief proponent of the effort. “For this initiative we have engaged leading firms and an industry organization that have funded a certificate and internship program that is focused on HBCU students. Not only will the firms provide paid internships, but they will also provide executive level mentoring.”

The certificate program guarantees accessibility and affordability while ensuring that people of color can dive into the insurance job market quickly, which serves both a diversity goal and helps the insurance companies avoid that looming workforce cliff.

In the insurance and risk management industry “there are some roles in which you need a full four-year degree,” Miller explains — the type of leadership roles that deal with more complex industrywide issues or academic matters — but “others in which you don’t.”

Along with the certificate courses, Ole Miss packages offerings of professional development and internships to make sure participants aren’t just capable of joining the field, but are actually ushered into it. With emphasis on mentoring, certificate earners and interns will fill personnel gaps and begin seeding the industry with agents and brokers who better reflect the diversity of the industry’s broad base of customers.

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