Sarah Walsh, Jeremy Vannatta and Kyle Lingscheit, from left, sit in the offices of PayneWest Insurance in Missoula recently. PayneWest has been providing additional benefits to recruit and retain employees in the face of a workforce shortage in Montana.

A career in the insurance industry doesn't exactly sound "sexy," but one Missoula firm is giving its employees generous benefits and career growth opportunities to stave off an impending workforce shortage.

PayneWest Insurance has 434 employees in Montana and 118 in Missoula, and they expect to hire around 100 in the next year. But because the Baby Boomer generation is retiring en masse, the insurance industry expects to lose about 1 million employees to retirement by 2025. The industry will need to fill 400,000 jobs in just the next two years.

Combine that with the fact that Montana's unemployment rate has been low for the past several years and is now hovering around 3.7 percent, and  PayneWest is being proactive in its strategy in attracting and retaining employees.

"We're not in a sexy industry," explained Jeremy Vannatta, managing director of marketing and communications at PayneWest, referring to how college students may perceive the industry. "With the low unemployment rates, to be competitive we have to create a great work environment and make people go 'wow' with our benefits and be involved in the community."

Lauren Patti, the director of recruiting at PayneWest, said the company knows most college kids don't wake up in the morning and think about a career in insurance.

"Our messaging isn't directed at the 'insurance' word," she explained. "We talk about doing good and helping clients and being a part of the community."

To respond to the workforce shortage challenge, PayneWest has undertaken what marketing project manager Mike Paquette calls a "proactive, employee-focused strategy with a healthy company culture."

The company offers up to six weeks paid leave for new mothers and fathers (including for adoption), 30 hours of annual paid volunteer time off to help in the community, an incentivized wellness program and a training and skill development program. Vanatta said employees took 7,000 hours of paid volunteer time last year.

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Recently, Business Insurance magazine rated PayneWest as one of the top places to work in the industry. That rating is based in part on a confidential survey of employees in companies all over the country, and roughly 80 percent of PayneWest employees completed the survey.

"It is the confirmation of efforts that we have been working towards for several years," explained Kyle Lingscheit, PayneWest's CEO. "It's a competitive marketplace for workers, not just in insurance but across our region. Our growth as a company and our success in recruiting the next generation of insurance talent puts us ahead of the curve in many ways, setting us up for future success."

The company has added 160 employees since 2015 through growth and acquisitions. Last year, more than half of the new hires were referred by current employees.

Patti said there might be a misperception among college students and high school students about what kind of training it takes to work in the insurance industry. 

"We are bringing in people in at all levels and functions, it varies widely," she said. "We have employees with a college degree, but we have a lot of individuals who do not have a college degree. With some of our more technical positions it's definitely a requirement but with our client relations team it's a mix."

She has hired people with engineering backgrounds, attorneys, former teachers and even one person with a degree in world religion.

"It runs the gamut," she said. "The fun thing is we get to know so much about other businesses. And when other businesses are growing we tend to grow."

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