By Caroline Brooks
According to research, insurance is one of the least desirable industries for Millennial talent. “My idea of working in the insurance industry is kind of like older men making a lot of money, and there isn’t a lot of room for creativity,” one college student told NPR in an interview.
That’s exactly what companies like Auto-Owners Insurance don’t want to hear, and why the company gave students from the Broad College of Business an opportunity to devise a plan of action to target Millennials heading into the workforce, while also giving them experience interacting with business professionals. For the third consecutive semester, 15 Business Communication (BUS 250) students traveled to Auto-Owners’ headquarters in Lansing, Michigan to pitch their strategic hiring cases to a panel of judges.
“We partnered with Auto-Owners Insurance to simulate an internship-like project for which our students must think strategically about how to address a business problem, develop a robust solution, and deliver that solution in a compelling and poised manner,” said Shana Redd, course instructor and lecturer in management. “We think of this as the first boardroom presentation most of our students will experience in their professional careers.”
For five weeks of the semester, all 236 students enrolled in Business Communication worked in groups to develop business cases to address a current Auto-Owners’ hiring challenge: identifying and attracting top college talent. From recruiting tactics to budgeting and timelines, students developed campaigns and initiatives to pitch to Auto-Owners that align with the company’s robust recruitment strategy and speak to recent college graduates. “We constantly ask ourselves, ‘how do we connect with high caliber college talent?’ It pushes us to try new things and adapt,” said Steve Bohus, corporate recruiter for Auto-Owners. “By partnering with the class, we’re giving the students real world experience while also creating an opportunity for branding and exposing them to our culture”
Throughout the semester, students presented their cases to faculty at the college for feedback on their pitches, to discuss potential issues, and to hone their presentation skills. After vetting all the groups, Redd and her team selected the top five teams to present to Auto-Owners.
First place in the competition walked away with $500 per student on the team, second place with $250 per student, third with $100 per student, and fourth- and fifth-place teams with trophies. The panel of five judges were all Auto-Owners’ leadership well versed in the hiring challenge set before the students.
The five teams presented a broad spectrum of solutions, which included launching a “Leaders of Tomorrow” program and convention to promote rising talent; a rotational initiative similar to Google, in which Millennials would rotate offices to experience different cities; and staffing teams of younger, more relatable recruiters to attend career fairs. All teams highlighted the importance of social media and engagement in their presentations.
The team that impressed judges the most pitched a case that involved an “early targeting” ambassador program at universities. For this, there would be an on-campus student ambassador representing Auto-Owners who would serve as a lifeline between the company and students. The ambassador would begin targeting talented students early on in their collegiate careers, hold campus informational sessions, and recruit potential hires to visit the company headquarters. By doing this, the ambassador would familiarize students with the Millennial-friendly corporate culture and put a familiar face on the not-so-familiar insurance industry.
“The entire semester was really building up to this, and I feel like we got more out of this than the cash prize,” said Ben Kallum (BA Business ’18), part of the first-place winning team. “This competition was right after finals week, so we learned a lot about time management and planning throughout the semester, but also about public speaking through our first official boardroom presentation and corporate networking experience.”
Since 2015, several Business Communication students have interviewed and received job offers immediately following the case competition events for spring and fall. For now, the $500 cash prize fulfilled what these sophomores want. “But come graduation, you give us a call!” Bohus said.