For years, we have worked under the assumption of having a career, if not a job, for life. But mergers, acquisitions, consolidation and the drive towards flatter organisational structures generally have resulted in fewer people in the business – and, for those left, fewer opportunities to progress.
The need to be an employable asset has never been greater. Qualifications provide one route, but for the qualified, methods of continually updating competencies are also important. This is fine for those already in the business, but we are often told the youth is the future of the industry, so what about those joining?
Most of the managers and senior managers who set policy, come from an era quaintly known as the “baby boomer” era. Born between about 1946 and 1965, they have come from a time of general prosperity. They had a social childhood, where many of the societal rules and boundaries created by their parents were challenged, questioned and transformed – attitudes about gender and race, for example. They grew up in an era when job loyalty and job security existed and were considered important.
It could be argued that today's graduates come from a very different era. They make up a smaller proportion of the working population and have a very different attitude to life. They have been brought up in a time when both parents probably worked, and when, on coming home from school, the first thing they did was watch television – possibly in their bedroom, as opposed to socially with the rest of the family. Many of their social signposts came from an increasing variety of media, with stronger and arguably more sensationalist messages. An example is the increasing extremity of events on television “soaps.”
These graduates are more aware of themselves, their image and the world around them. The things they want, they want now. They have also witnessed the evolution of a society in which you can be unruly in public, break the law, act unethically and possibly get away with it. These people are known as Generation X.
So what? The result is a change in the motivation for work. If the recent graduate straight out of university on a traineeship is only thinking short-term, they have a different agenda from their superiors. They do not necessarily have a career with that company in mind. The usual counter to this argument has been: “That's ok since we are training them for the industry.” Unfortunately, it could also be argued that, according to the Gen X mentality, neither the job nor the industry are the most important thing in life. It could be that they are just stepping stones to the next job that satisfies their needs. This job might not necessarily be in insurance, or even financial services.
This change in the psychological contract between the employee and employer has varied ramifications. Two obvious implications come to the fore. As an industry, we spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pounds on graduate recruitment programmes – doing the university round, getting people in and training them. Yet it is increasingly likely that they will leave soon after they have what they want. Is it not worth also concentrating on more development of second and third jobbers, who may have shown some commitment to the business, or may have some commitments of their own to maintain? The second question is, if and when we do get these graduates in, how do we keep them?
The debate could be expanded in a number of directions, but this article primarily outlines a concern. To move further into the subject, one could also consider the next generation. If you ask a teenager what he wants to be when he grows up, how many will answer “firefighter” or “nurse”, and how many will say “I want to run my own business”?