Northwestern Mutual’s internship program is their solution to aging workforce challenges [video]

Posted August 02, 2017 by


The financial services industry, like many industries, is facing significant aging workforce challenges.

The demand for financial advisers is expected to increase 30% from 2014-2024 (US Bureau of Labor Statistics). However, some estimates predict that 35% of advisers plan to retire or leave the industry within the next 10 years (Cerulli & Associates). Northwestern Mutual’s Internship Program Director, Michael Van Grinsven, shared with College Recruiter how they plan to overcome the looming talent shortage.

What Northwestern Mutual is doing to overcome the talent shortage

Michael van Grinsven says that Northwestern Mutual anticipated this 20 years ago. Their internship program has been around for 50 years. When their program was 30 years old they started to notice how the whole workforce was aging. Van Grinsven explains how Northwestern Mutual “made a concerted effort to grow the internship.” They knew that the retiring age of the baby boomers, economic problems, and environmental changes were on their way. “We needed to have a young, vibrant fuel source that would match the marketplace.” Before 1997, Northwestern Mutual had around 400 interns. Now they have 3700.

Northwestern Mutual’s ‘handcrafted’ internship program utilizes a lot of technology and builds leadership to help create a continually welcoming environment for the interns. Van Grinsven explains the importance of keeping the program as an individually customized experience no matter how much it expands in numbers. The program gives interns insight to what their career would look like and their potential in that career path.

To recruit for skills or train?

The hardest part is teaching interns how to handle rejection. As simple as it sounds, says Van Grinsven, it’s a very common part of the workforce experience that many college grads have little experience in. Northwestern Mutual helps their interns and young professionals understand that they should meet the market where it’s at. When the market is doing well, Northwestern Mutual will work with them and decide how to help them.

Recruiters at Northwestern Mutual try to spot this ability in candidates. They look for “the skills that the interns use at that time of the rejection and what lessons they learned afterward.” Northwestern Mutual wants to see how these interns take a difficult situation and work it into their favor to equip themselves for future opportunities. They also however, do work with them and sharpen their skills. If they have to, they will teach them the foundation plus the skills on how to toughen up a little.

Identifying an internal drive is more important than personality

“We’re always looking for students that have that internal drive,” remarks Van Grinsven. Having a lot of flamboyant energy or a bubbly personality can influence an interviewer, or even be helpful, but the employer should care much more about an internal drive. Not only do interns find their inner strength when you empower their capabilities, but that also start to shape their personalities at work. If you take a snapshot of an intern just starting a program, six months later or a year later, you’d be thoroughly impressed.

The most common feedback that Van Grinsven hears from interns is that they grew as a person. They grew because of being outside of their comfort zone.

Employers should hire the candidates that have room to grow and seem to be a person who will appreciate a learning experience—not necessarily somebody who has got all the boxes checked on their resume.

Diversity of internship program will affect future leadership

Van Grinsven says they have a concerted effort in recruiting gender and ethnicity diversity. “There is a larger representation among our interns than in the company’s general population,” he comments. These are the future leaders and so to increase diversity amongst the interns should increase the diversity within the company. The focus is on helping the field leaders understand that they need to look for talent in places they’ve never been before.

Related: Strategies and mistakes in diversity recruitment 

“That’s the exciting part about it,” says Van Grinsven. The goal is to represent the marketplace. If we can do that we’ll be successful long term.”

Clarifying misconceptions of what a financial career can be

In order to be successful in financial services, you don’t have to be that familiar with finance. A lot of the calculations are done by the actuaries, not financial advisers. Van Grinsven says Northwestern Mutual wants to always have “smart people that are able to understand the emotional connection that they have to have with clients. They’re there to understand the client’s story, know their role, their goals, and their challenges. Our employee’s role is not necessarily to do the talking but to understand the client.”

Van Grinsven’s team also finds itself clarifying another important part of the internship program: the software and technology tools that are available.

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