If there’s one thing Encova Insurance has learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the importance of being agile in a quickly changing environment. When COVID-19 began having a large impact on Ohio businesses in March, Encova faced a barrage of decisions on how to proceed through a pandemic while protecting the health and safety of its employees and customers.
The company sent 90% of its workforce home to work remotely, which remains the case in August. Of the many other decisions, Encova needed to decide what to do with its upcoming internship program, which was quickly approaching. The company had already hired 22 interns to work 40 hours per week throughout the summer at its Columbus headquarters. But with employees working from home, the program was in question, at least for a brief period.
“We asked our CEO TJ Obrokta if he wanted to continue the internship program as so much was in flux,” said Natalie Payne, Encova talent acquisition specialist. “He was in absolute support of maintaining the program even during these challenging times.”
Encova has a history of hiring past interns full time. Obrokta and his team didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to groom the future of the industry for an entire summer, particularly during a time where technology and innovation has played such an important role in insurance.
So in about a month’s time, Encova’s information technology team helped the company transform its internship program, making it completely virtual. And on May 11, all 22 interns, representing 13 universities, reported to their first day on the job, from home in front of their laptops. It was the first time in the company’s history an intern had ever worked fully remote.
“It’s been a learning curve for everyone, with all of us at home, but it was so important to continue the program because this is really the interns’ first exposure to corporate America and that’s an invaluable experience,” said Payne.
Each intern works in various departments within the company, some of which include IT, accounting, safety and loss, underwriting, and analytics. The interns are provided with managers and mentors who assign tasks and help them through the learning process of holding an internship. The company uses WebEx to hold virtual meetings throughout the day, along with Jabber, which allows employees to stay in touch through instant messaging.
“What we’re missing is that in-person ‘water cooler talk’ as they call it. But we have these tools that help us stay in regular communication throughout each day. We encourage the interns to never hesitate to reach out to someone new to have an engaging conversation and ask for advice,” said Payne.
One of the interns at Encova is Sam Lovely who is an actuarial sciences major at The Ohio State University. Lovely said he has benefited greatly from his internship, learning how to use many of the technological tools used by insurance companies like Tableau, Visual Basic for Applications and Excel. He has also gained valuable insight on the innerworkings of an insurance company that only an internship could provide.
“When the pandemic broke out, I was worried that my opportunity was gone,” said Lovely. “However, it is because of Encova that I can go into my future interviews feeling confident and prepared for my career. I would say that I have benefitted immensely in that I will be a competitive applicant next semester while I’m looking for jobs.”
Of the companies within the Insurance Industry Resource Council (IIRC), Central Insurance, Cincinnati Insurance, Nationwide Insurance, National Interstate Insurance, Ohio Mutual Insurance and Westfield Insurance also continued their internship programs in Summer 2020.
“I can't say how proud I am of our training team, of our managers of the rest for just jumping in and making it work,” said Payne.
It has certainly been a summer of learning at Encova, with experiences that will have an enormous impact on the future of its work once the pandemic finally passes.
“We have a lot to consider. On one side there’s really nothing that can replace those in-person working relationships. But we’ve found a lot of comfort in having home-based associates during this time too. We’re certainly far more comfortable exploring all options, having gone through these experiences,” said Payne.