Enhanced internship program proves ‘insurance isn’t boring’

Sept. 27, 2018

This piece is presented by Howalt+McDowell Insurance, a Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC company.

There’s the stereotypical internship: Coffee runs, stocking the printer, taking calls and filing papers.

Then, there’s what Steve Vlk, CEO at Howalt+McDowell, thinks of an internship: “Developing talent, creating a pipeline of individuals to understand what Howalt+McDowell does, redefining the perceptions of business insurance, enhancing the college population so insurance becomes a more desirable profession and giving back to the Sioux Falls community by helping up incoming graduates.”

This year, Howalt+McDowell implemented a new approach to the old paradigm of summer internships  to prove that insurance isn’t boring.

From a very competitive application process that netted dozens of high-caliber candidates, four students were selected to participate:

  • Kathleen Juffer, a University of South Dakota business marketing graduate and current MBA candidate.
  • Maddy Hackett, a senior at South Dakota State University studying economics and marketing.
  • Rachel Townsend, a junior at the University of Colorado majoring in finance and analytics.
  • Gavin DeHaai, a junior studying business administration at Concordia University-Nebraska.

A key differentiator for this internship experience was the opportunity interns were afforded to guide their own experience. It was divided into an “exploration” and “immersion” phase.

Staff wore their college gear to welcome the interns to the agency.

“We started by getting an overview of the departments we would be working with and rotating through them,” Townsend said. “The department rotations included sitting in on meetings, working on projects and visiting clients.”

This phase exposed the interns to every department in the agency, giving  them an overview of the sales, service and support functions.

Following rotations through employee health and benefits, business insurance, data analytics, employer services and brand marketing, the interns individually selected a department to immerse themselves in.

In order to gain real-world experience, the interns didn’t spend much time sitting behind a desk. Kathleen Juffer and Maddy Hackett joined risk management consultant Allen Schlenker on a visit to one of his dairy clients.

“I chose brand marketing to complement my major (business marketing). It offered the opportunity to apply marketing tactics I learned in school to support sales goals and observe how these two areas align to drive a company forward,” Juffer said.

Each intern decided on a different department.

“I became interested in business insurance and after seeing what the risk management consultants do on a day-to-day basis,” DeHaai said. “Each day and each client are different, which makes the job an ever-changing challenge.”

Gavin DeHaai developed an interest in business insurance after spending time with risk management consultants like Travis Starks.

As a result of his internship, DeHaai was awarded a highly competitive $5,000 scholarship from the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers for his 2018-19 schooling. He will return next summer as a senior intern to focus on business insurance consulting.

The interns didn’t just look into the company, they also took a Discovery Insights personality test to take a deeper look into themselves.

“It didn’t surprise me that each intern selected a different department because we each ended up having a different dominant personality,” Hackett said. “The personality test, which Howalt+McDowell has all their employees take, provided explanation on our behaviors and, more importantly, gave guidance on how to have more effective interactions with others.”

The spread of personalities among the interns matches that of the agency’s larger workforce.

“What sets Howalt+McDowell apart is our talent, work culture, experience, knowledge and passion to help our clients be successful in what they do,” Vlk said.

“Our internship is different because of the level of exposure and trust we give the interns by allowing them to participate in every facet of what we do, whether that is client facing or internal interaction. They’re given specific projects with real solutions. We want them to learn about themselves, the organization and how they could fit into this organization. We spent a lot of time and energy to make sure the interns were comfortable with themselves and the organization. It’s our responsibility to help each of them grow on a personal and professional level.”

Vlk also takes pride in the fact that he has helped hire some of those talented people, one of them being Teagan Molden. She went through an internship program of her own at the agency three years ago and quickly got hired and then promoted to a client adviser in the employee health and benefits department.

Her advice to the interns at Howalt+McDowell and elsewhere is to say yes to projects and get involved wherever the opportunity arises.

“Submerging myself into the organization and taking part in everything I could demonstrated the value I could bring and landed me a full-time job offer.”

Molden has seen significant developments in the internship program since her experience just a few years ago.

“My internship was more of an overview of the business world rather than being focused on insurance. The internship program is more structured now. I spent most of my time with the sales team. Now, the interns are involved in many more things I wasn’t exposed to such as marketing, analytics and safety and compliance. They really get to see the whole picture, rather than just a piece of the puzzle.”

The interns honed their presentation skills as they showcased their projects to several audiences.

The masterminds behind this internship experience are Allie Fischer, human resources manager, and Kira Kimball, chief innovation officer. Along with Vlk, they spent many months recruiting talent, conducting interviews and developing the overarching tasks of the program. And although the Howalt+McDowell leadership team agrees this first-year program wasn’t perfect, they do believe it was extremely successful.

“The goal of this internship was to create an experience to showcase the insurance industry to students and create a talent pool for the future,” Fischer said. “For a first-year program, it went very well. We knew it would be time consuming and take a lot of energy, but we also knew that’s what we needed to do for it to be successful.”

The Howalt+McDowell team has taken great pride in this summer program and is excited to continue it to grow the younger generation in the industry.

“New folks who come in are going to help us revolutionize the way we sell and help our clients,” Kimball said. “We need new minds in this industry, and we want the legacy of our agency to continue for generations to come. If we don’t invest in young professionals, we won’t develop future talent. Sometimes, there’s a belief that hiring seasoned workers is the only path to take, but someone who is looking at our industry with fresh eyes can help us come up with new organic ideas and let us grow.”

Growing is exactly what Howalt+McDowell intends to do. The insurance industry as a whole will have approximately 400,000 jobs opening up in the next five years, and Howalt+McDowell hopes to capitalize on this talent opportunity by bringing in eager young professionals.

“The interns integrated into our departments so well. It has been impressive to see the team they became in 12 short weeks,” Kimball said. “They have energized and revitalized our departments, so we have definitely benefited from their touch as well.”

Looking ahead, the agency hopes to keep growing the program for years to come as 40 percent of employees are eligible to retire in the next five years.

“Moving forward, we want to expand in a meaningful way and keep building talent,” Vlk said. “At the end of the day, we want the interns to say this is one of the best experiences they’ve had with regard to helping them grow.”

Future intern candidates won’t have to wait long to learn more about the opportunities at Howalt+McDowell. With school back in session, Fischer and Kimball will be making the rounds at college career fairs beginning in October. Interested candidates also can learn more by contacting Fischer at allie.fischer@marshmma.com or (605) 339-3874.


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Enhanced internship program proves ‘insurance isn’t boring’

This year Howalt+McDowell implemented a new approach to the old paradigm of summer internsh  to prove that insurance isn’t boring.

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