(Portraits of participants of Selective Insurance’s Ignite Internship Program. Image source: Selective.)
Internship programs are important both to recruit future insurance professionals and to educate the public about the insurance industry. However, they fall below the level of essential operations and thus were vulnerable to being cancelled in the light of the COVID-19. Glassdoor estimates a 52 percent decline in available internships due to the pandemic. Selective Insurance (Branchville, N.J.) chose to go ahead with its 2020 Ignite Internship Program by converting it into a virtual experience. This year 50 interns participated in the summer program, which ran from June 1 through Aug. 7.
When the shelter-at-home orders were implemented and Selective closed its offices in March 2020, the super-regional P&C insurer had already committed to provide 50 college students the opportunity to participate in Ignite, according to Laura Bloxham, Early Career Program Manager, Selective Insurance. Bloxham sees continuing the program as fulfilling its commitment to the chosen interns, in line with Selective’s core value of Integrity. It was also a matter of keeping open the pipeline of quality talent that the program brings to the insurer.
“Our Ignite Internship program helps us to identify and attract talented students into our annual Trainee Program for early career professionals just getting started in the insurance industry,” Bloxham explains. “So for us, it really wasn’t a question if we can go virtual, it was more about how to do it.
Engaging Virtual Experiences
That meant providing interns with the engaging virtual experiences that make the program successful, without having them visit Selective’s Sussex County campus. To bring multiple social, networking and learning events into the virtual realm, Selective created a plan leveraging a variety of technology platforms tweaked to fit the demands of the Ignite Program. “We also developed best practices to assist our managers with on-boarding, training, communication and overall engagement at the department level,” Bloxham relates.
Selective began developing the virtualized program before the end of March, surveying both interns and hiring managers to get a sense of their preferences and the support they would need to operate in a virtual environment. By early May, the insurer made the decision for Ignite to go fully virtual.
The Ignite Internship Program was established in 2015 as a more structured enhancement to earlier internship approaches. The principal goals of Ignite are to help students experience a career in insurance and learn about diverse opportunities industry offers. That, in turn, gives participants a chance to explore areas of personal career interest, formulate future plans and pathways, acquire the skills necessary to meet certain goals, and complete meaningful work while building strong relationships, according to Bloxham.
Pipeline of Young Talent
The program benefits Selective by creating a talented base of prospective employees, bringing fresh perspectives and ideas to the organization. As a measure of success, in 2019 Selective extended offers to 65 percent of interns and summer hires to come back as Trainees, Associates, Co-ops or returning interns.
Bloxham describes the main features of Ignite for interns as follows:
- Action Learning Projects: Giving interns the chance to research, brainstorm and solve a business problem for the company
- Group engagement activities: A chance to connect with, share experiences and learn from other interns, such as during a Virtual Lunch and Scavenger Hunt (when in the office, interns enjoy Ice Cream Socials, Intern breakfasts and a Lunch and Lounge)
- Networking opportunities: Roundtables and meet-and-greets with Selective’s CEO and CHRO
- Development opportunities: DiSC training and a Career opportunities presentation
- Volunteer Day: As part of the Ignite summer internship program, all interns take a volunteer day to perform community service together. (This was the only event cancelled during the virtual intern program)
- Hot Topic discussions: Selective leaders speak to Regional Interns every week about topics in the industry such as IT Security, Abuse & Molestation, etc.
Ignite lets interns explore a variety of operational areas of the company, which offer further opportunities to cultivate interest in each functional area. This year departments participating in the program were Underwriting, Claims, Premium Audit, Actuary, Accounting, IT, Human Resources, Internal Audit, Personal Lines, Innovation & Strategy, Financial Planning and Business Services.
In addition to learning about the department they work in, interns are required to complete a course through Selective’s Leadership University on General Insurance knowledge, Bloxham relates. “They also work on various Action Learning Team projects, giving them the opportunity to research a real business issue for the company and present recommended solutions that could be implemented in the future,” she continues. “These opportunities expose them to a number of different people in various departments throughout the organization.
Interns also participate in a DiSC training workshop where they learn different behavioral styles and understand how their personal values impact their work. They participate in sessions on careers in insurance, opportunities at Selective and a roundtable discussion with both early career professionals and leaders.
In order to keep the program fun and engaging, Selective divided interns into smaller groups for projects and other activities, giving them a chance to connect with peers. “In addition to the sessions, we also held virtual lunches and team building events,” Bloxham notes.
As Engaging as In-Person Programs
“The IT infrastructure and systems that we had in place were a huge part of our ability to build a successful virtual program,” Bloxham stresses. “For example, Microsoft Teams proved to be a big help to us for all of the meetings, events and presentations, and even allowed us to do small breakout rooms for some of the larger events we do like Leader roundtables and DiSC. We had several returning Ignite Interns that were with us in the office last year, that worked virtually this year and the feedback we received was that many of programs were just as engaging as they were when we were in person.”
This year’s program’s participants found out about the Ignite Program through a variety of channels, including family members who work at Selective, LinkedIn announcements and Indeed.com.
Lauren Miller, an Environmental Science major at Kutztown University was encouraged by family members to attend a “meet-and-greet” event for Ignite, which resulted in her applying. She began the program on June 1, where she found several projects arranged for her to participate in across a range of departments.
“Selective wanted to make sure I found what was interesting to me and it was made clear that my internship didn’t have to be a straight line to the end zone,” Miller comments. “I was able to do projects from different departments that weren’t just my own. I also had the opportunity to do a project with other interns that ended up being presented to the CEO and it was an amazing experience.”
Miller acknowledges that prior to Ignite, she considered insurance a boring field and hadn’t given it much thought as a potential career. However, she now considers insurance, and Selective specifically as a potential career option. “I worked for Corporate Underwriting and I like to say it’s like the FBI but less dangerous,” she quips. “It’s very investigative and requires a lot of analytical thinking. My opinion and idea of insurance has done a complete 180—I am now seriously considering Selective as a potential career option.”
Learning About the Importance of IT to Insurance
Before her Ignite experience, Hariti Patel, a Computer Science major at Barnard College/Columbia University, was unaware of the importance of IT to the insurance industry. During her participation in the program, Patel worked on the company’s Claims Modernization Project, contributing to the development of several RESTful APIs. “For my project with fellow interns, we worked on understanding how Selective can leverage the capabilities of automated chat interactions to improve collaboration and efficiency among its employees,” she says. “We were able to interview different departments and receive feedback in order to construct solutions for Selective to implement.”
Danielle Reilly, an Accounting and Forensic Accounting major at Mount St. Mary’s University, worked within Selective’s Internal Audit department as an Ignite intern. “I was able to observe the application of the audit process of Selective, attend meetings with third parties, and work on a variety of projects to help my supervisors and the department even after my internship is over,” she relates. “The internship also consisted of an action-learning project. We were to provide recommendations to the Careers Website of Selective Insurance.”
Reilly concluded that at Selective—and in the insurance industry in general—there is a department and role for everyone, including an openness to new roles and capabilities. The experience made it easy to envision working in a career, a culture and a community such as Selectives, she says. “Selective insurance cares about its employees, wants to develop them growth personally and professionally, and ensures everyone is on a path to succeed.”
Miller and Patel also reported that their experience at Ignite has made them consider a career at Selective. “Everyone I spoke to that had gone to a different insurance company has told me the reason they came back to Selective was because of the people,” Miller comments. “Selective has created this family and I think that can be really hard to find. I felt valued and that my knowledge was valuable to my peers during my time at Selective. The wonderful experience I had was because of the people I met who took the time to mentor me, and for that reason I absolutely have a different outlook on insurance compared to a few months ago.”