One industry leader’s approach to talent management in a changing industry landscape

Scott Westman, Senior Vice President, Casualty Operations, Sedgwick

The claims industry has a talent attraction problem. Despite a treasure trove of employment opportunities in a fast-paced industry that promises upward mobility and technological innovation, a job opening awaiting an eager college graduate is meaningless when the industry is largely unseen. Scott Westman, Sedgwick’s senior vice president of casualty operations, has a vision to change that – by changing the way people view talent management and infusion.

Westman is a perfect role model for a person who commits to the insurance industry and ascends through it. During his 25-year  career, he has served in 15 different roles, yet worked for only two companies. This is evidence, he says, of an unlimited cache of promotional advancement opportunities if you’re willing to choose the claims and workers’ compensation field. But before new talent can decide to join the industry, they first must notice it – and the clock is ticking.

Over the course of the pandemic, 20-25% of examiners retired or left the industry to pursue alternate career paths, Westman said. And that retirement trend is set to rapidly continue. The outlook is grim, considering the generational gap within insurance industry demographics – over the next 15 years, more than half of the current insurance workforce will retire, leaving 400,000 open positions unfilled, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, only 25% of those currently working in the insurance industry are under 35 years old.

“When you think about the pocket of people able to perform or have the skillset after pandemic-related exits, it’s lessened,” Westman said. “So the need to develop, and to attract more people to our industry, especially new people, has never been greater.”

A recent ACORD study found that less than 4% of millennials would consider working in insurance. It makes sense, then, to focus on generating hype among a pool that’s even younger. To build a talent-to-industry pipeline, college campuses are a good place to start, Westman said. In part by using college recruiting programs to spread awareness and stoke excitement in young people, while also utilizing internship programs to expose them to the inner workings of claims positions.

Once talent is retained and onboarded, Westman envisions a non-stop, fluid, enterprise-wide development process that encompasses all stages of an employee’s time with the company. Embedding mentorship into all levels of the company, for example, is critical for colleagues that are encountering situations for the first time. Leveraging the collective experiences of leadership and other senior colleagues and holding regular check-ins to determine what an employee needs exposure to, is equally as critical.

“They need to see that there’s an investment in them, there’s a commitment to them, that our organization supports employee development,” Westman said. “That’s what people look for if they have ambition – they look to see ‘okay, what’s down the line for me, where’s my next opportunity? Is this organization willing to invest in me to help me get there?’”

Part of recognizing the industry-wide challenge of attracting new, top-tier talent also means a deep and continuous commitment to succession planning, Westman said. To ensure that at any given moment, as opportunities arise, as retirements happen – there are people ready to ascend into leadership roles. That means regularly assessing the mix of skillsets, behaviors and abilities of the existing colleague base and determining how to align those with company positions. If skill gaps exist in the talent base, supplement them with training, curriculum or other in-house resources. And if a gap can’t be filled by a current employee, go out and recruit someone with the skills who can.

“It’s important to have your arms around existing skill sets, and be ready to pivot,” Westman said. “It needs to be a living, breathing, fluid process that’s reviewed quarterly.”

Ideally, succession planning should be an enterprise-wide commitment and leadership initiative spanning all levels and disciplines. For an organization of Sedgwick’s scale employing 30,000 people, there needs to be a lot of eyes, Westman says, in addition to open channels of communication among leadership. The next promising leader could be someone no one yet knows about, or someone whose potential is stunted in their current position.

In an upcoming WCI conference session led by Westman, attendees will hear from one industry professional who specializes in succession planning, as well as two others who, like Westman, have ascended in their management and claims careers to positions of leadership. Through sharing their personal journeys and expertise, the panelists will shed light on talent management best practices, creating best-in-class succession plans and everything in between.

Westman is confident claims work and workers’ compensation hold everything needed to engage new talent, if simply given the chance. He hopes the panel will attract industry-wide claims and business leaders, employers and young professionals.

“We want them to come help us solve this industry challenge of attraction,” Westman said. “To see that we are at the forefront of this commitment – not just as Sedgwick, but as an industry – of meeting the ever-changing needs of our customers.”

The 76th Annual Workers’ Compensation Educational Conference will take place August 21-24 at the Orlando World Center Marriott in Orlando, FL. To learn more about Westman’s panel, or to register to attend, click here.