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Looking to New Places for Tomorrow's Talent

By Henry Bryson, Technology Capability Officer, Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company

Henry Bryson, Technology Capability Officer, Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Company

Being from a small rural high school where there were no computers available for students, the idea of being a technologist never crossed my mind. Fortunately, I was exposed to computers by chance while visiting my sister at college and playing computer games in the lab.

I kept this experience in mind as I entered college and began taking programming courses, which amplified my appreciation for logical constructs and the ability to take disparate data and to create something of value. This appreciation obviously stuck with me as my entire professional career has been centered around creating and leveraging technology for financial and insurance systems in applications development, services and consulting capacities. The original small happenstance encounter with computers in a lab set a course into what can be easily seen as core component of everyday modern life.

In my role as a technology capability officer at Colonial Life, I work to enable our business by delivering upon the insurance industry’s ever-changing technology needs. And in that role, I am continually reminded about how important it is to introduce opportunities and experiences to today’s students—especially female and minority students who don’t always consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Preparing for the future should not always be a “chance” encounter similar to my own, but possibly more purposeful by exposing possibilities.

The need to identify and recognize the significance of engineering and computer science as key levers in society and companies continues to grow exponentially. These fields of study have not only become ingrained into virtually every industry, especially insurance, they are leading and enabling companies to have a basis to create and deliver their products and services. In other words, non-IT businesses become mini (or major) technology companies in order to position their core offerings.

Because of this, practically all job permeations across the majority of business settings require some level of technology-backed proficiencies. By providing insight to minority students early in their educational curriculum, they can deliberately chart courses of study that will prepare them to be the engineers and expert users within their professions.

Including diverse populations into our workforce, especially in Information Technology and other STEM-related jobs, is critical—and not just because it’s the right thing to do. Consumers and businesses have tons of choices to choose from when selecting technology solutions. The quality, design, function and usefulness of a technology service or product will determine its place in the market. With a technology company or a technology enabled business having rich content and applicability that crosses boundaries, it can expand its success based on the input from diverse employees who are also part of their potential direct or indirect consumer chain. By exposing and enabling students to be a part of the knowledge worker space for technology dramatically helps evolve better offerings across multiple demographics. This is where diversity of thought and implementation creates a competitive advantage.

Recruiting and hiring people from different cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds allows for the possibility of having unique perspectives on how to solve an issue or to service a need. Members of a diverse employee base are able to draw upon their gender and/or minority-based life experiences when problem-solving, which can create a distinct vantage point. These distinctions—whether they’re vast or slight—allow for new, creative solutions to be developed from different angles. By adopting or factoring in these diverse avenues into a technology design, a more purpose-built system can be developed with either broader or refined fit-for-use characteristics.

While we’ve long discussed how to improve the opportunities for students of all genders and racial and ethnic backgrounds, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Only 13 percent of engineers and 27 percent of computer workers are women, according to the U.S. Census (2013). These figures have remained relatively flat for more than 20 years. African-Americans and Latinos are also underrepresented in STEM jobs. While black professionals represent nearly 11 percent of the total workforce, they hold just 6.4 percent of STEM jobs. And Latinos, who represent nearly 15 percent of the workforce, hold just 6.5 percent of STEM jobs.

One way Colonial Life is working to improve on these statistics is through a partnership with the University of South Carolina’s College of Engineering and Computing. Through the Partners for Minorities in Engineering and Computer Science summer program, we provide gifted minority students with the opportunity to connect with role models in engineering and computer science. High school students spend time on USC’s campus and attend workshops at local businesses, including Colonial Life. During their site visit to Colonial Life, students are afforded the opportunity to engage directly IT teams covering software development, operations, infrastructure, networking, architecture and various other roles that are technology centric. They also connect directly with business areas who use technology solutions to enable the business with go-to-market offerings and within operational settings.

This partnership provides great benefits for the students, the community and our company. Showcasing, comparing and contrasting various opportunities in STEM careers to female and minority students is important as Colonial Life and other insurance firms seek diversity of knowledge, experience, demographics and even psychographic tendencies from the global community. By adding diverse talent to the workforce, companies can create an employee ecosystem that leverages a variety of industry driven technologies which more holistically represents who it is attempting to reach.

"Recruiting and hiring people from different cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds allows for the possibility of having unique perspectives on how to solve an issue or to service a need"

The students are taught the possibilities of what they could do and become—especially around careers in engineering and computer science. This includes realizing professional career possibilities exist in companies they may not have previously imagined, and that these companies (like Colonial Life) use leading-edge technologies. Students need to know they don’t have to move to Silicon Valley for these opportunities. By showcasing within Colonial Life, we can demonstrate our use of prominent technologies by smart, passionate and creative people from the “local” community, close to their homes, friends and families.

When companies like Colonial Life are able to connect with the community and expand the minds of female and minority students in ways that may shape their future, our futures are shaped as well. Even if the students do not join our workforce directly from school, they may be a future connection as an employee, consumer or external technology enabler that could make a contribution to our business in years to come. Being a part of a knowledge-based ecosystem that continually learns and strives for greater performance creates an important connection to the local and global communit

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