The traditional linear model of the career ladder and its steps to seniority no longer applies to many professions. Instead, successful careers are increasingly exploratory in nature. We believe that iterative approaches to adapt and learn repeatedly over a career, with ongoing support and insight from career experts and fellow professionals, will become the norm.
In this article, we discuss the digital trend and technology evolution, staying abreast of the changing landscape, how technology can support us with training and career management, virtual training for actuarial students, active career management for professionals, other approaches, and our thoughts on the future.
It considers both actuarial students and qualified professionals. Traditionally actuaries have studied a series of core exams, followed by a set of specialist exams in their chosen domains. The path to fellowship qualification concludes with the application of their knowledge in their chosen specialist context. After qualifying, actuaries are required by their professional bodies to undertake continuing professional development (CPD) including technical and professionalism-related aspects, often on an annual cycle. Increasingly, our professional bodies are supporting us with lifelong learning too, emphasising that it’s not only about the professional exams at the start of our careers.
Technology and the Rate of Change
Digital has been a megatrend over recent decades, and technology will continue to evolve at a rapid rate. Tools we originally learnt as part of our traditional actuarial training and on-the-job have changed, and as we advance in our careers our roles shift naturally to interpreting and explaining the output of models to others.
Technology also impacts the ways we do business, with new competitors emerging, changes to how customers want to engage with us, and opportunities to manage operational costs merely some of the examples of how technology affects the value chain. Indeed, the impact of these technological advances on actuaries is the focus of actuartech.com
So, in our world where everything is going digital, we’ve set out to explore how actuaries (qualified fellows and students) can keep on top of the evolving trends, while at the same time experiencing fulfilment at work.
Staying Abreast of the Changing Landscape
The world is moving at a fast pace and it seems to be getting faster and faster. Individuals are grappling with changing demands in their lives, including in their professional capacities. Given this, we’ve researched how training and career management have also evolved to support individuals in coping with these changing digitally-driven demands.
Our general suggestions for how to cope with the changing demands include:
- building your resilience so that you can more easily bounce back from setbacks, including seeing them as learning opportunities and not as failures
- strengthening your support structures, including professionally (within your job, and externally like the support offered by online mentors) and personally (friends and family)
- practising doing things you’ve never done to feel at home with the unknown – using your existing skills as footholds in unfamiliar situations will help you to apply what you’re already good at
We find that these suggestions help us to focus on learning in a new environment, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the changes and uncertainty. It also helps to remember that others have found themselves, and thrived, in similar circumstances previously – look to their stories for inspiration.
Further suggestions for keeping abreast of (and capitalising on) the changing landscape are:
- stay curious and connected, including widening your perspective to include lessons from other disciplines and professions
- keep learning so that you can evolve and adapt as things change, including reading widely to upskill yourself – actuartech.com can help you with this
- consider the application of technologies (instead of their technical details)
- know what motivates and drives you personally, as this is key to your long-term fulfilment e.g. some people prefer the excitement of being involved in potentially ground-breaking initiatives rather than job security and stability
- develop a mix of skills, including strategic and relational skills that are less likely to be taken over by machines in the medium term e.g. historically experts at commutation factors would have struggled to compete with computing advances
As actuaries, we believe strongly in the value of lifelong learning, including continuing professional development (CPD). Our careers span multiple decades, and we believe it is crucial to keep up-to-date and take inspiration from change.
Technology-based Support Structures
While technology is itself contributing to the faster pace and is indeed a major factor behind the changes we continue to experience professionally, we believe it can also help us by providing solutions to our challenges around how to keep learning and remain up-to-date. Training and career management solutions are evolving, capitalising on technology to ensure relevance using current generation techniques and tools.
A major trend is to diagnose an individual’s career challenge or training needs and then provide them with a tailored answer i.e. technology aids personalisation. This can be achieved automatically without the need for a human, similar to robo-advice in the financial planning market.
Technology is an important part of training programmes and online active career management services as it enables us to:
- access services at times that suit us,
- obtain a personalised offering based on our circumstances and objectives, and
- meet our needs at a lower cost.
Even though automation can add a lot of value, human interaction remains a key component of career development because of the impact of role models in supporting individuals to make positive career progress. The human touch is available when individuals need it through coaches and mentors – although naturally, this engagement is also technology-enabled i.e. technology and human skills reinforcing one another.
Another advantage of training programmes and active career management services being data-driven is that the personalised improvement suggestions can consider how effective they were for others, including others with similar circumstances and goals to our own. Over time, we anticipate that machine learning and artificial intelligence (and other emerging advances) will help make these personalised suggestions even better.
Virtual Training for Actuarial Students
Actuarial exams are widely recognised as challenging, with significant effort and focus required of actuarial students. For many, their primary objective is naturally to progress through the exams in as little time as possible. Often employers are supportive of this too, providing study leave and financial support for exam fees, course materials, tutorials and other techniques to improve pass rates.
We have seen a shift in the way students learn and develop. Some students just need help with one topic, while others are looking for general exam advice, and there are some who need a more holistic framework. A variety of services exist that can address these needs.
One international trend has been the rise of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), and there is a range of online learning providers offering different courses to learn new skills. Examples include Udemy, Coursera, and LinkedIn Learning. YouTube itself is another popular source of training videos. All of these are very broad in the courses/videos they offer, with solutions customised for actuarial students being more niche.
In our experience, actuarial students value techniques and training that can give them an edge in each exam. Passing more quickly has significant benefits, whether because fellows have extra time on their hands, or because of salary increases following exam progress. If students are supported to grasp concepts more quickly and have a better probability of passing an exam, the training or other activities have saved them time and provided value to them.
Training on demand has also grown in importance. Video lectures have advantages over the traditional method of in-person lectures as students can watch at any time, at any location, comment anonymously, share, re-watch, and hence learn at their own personal pace. Videos are also accessible to those who are self-studying, and they provide a helpful external perspective and/or alternative explanations of the concepts for these students. The internet allows close-knit networks through social media too where students can ask questions or comment on hurdles they are facing i.e. actuarial forums.
Some providers of online training work hard to make learning fun. They seek to promote the actuarial career attractively by explaining some of the concepts using more relatable and easier to understand language as well as by providing support to help motivate students. Improving accessibility can also help to encourage new entrants to the profession from diverse backgrounds.
Another online advantage is that the material can be accessed globally, which helps to connect actuarial students across countries. This international cross-pollination of ideas is a positive for the profession as a whole, bearing in mind though that different countries tend to have different exam structures, so not all material is applicable across them.
Active Career Management for Professionals
There are also services available to professionals which support them to manage their careers after studying, especially as careers can span more than forty years. While many of us took well-deserved breaks from studying after qualifying, perhaps vowing never to look at a set of study notes again, as actuaries, we have continuing professional development (CPD) obligations. Meeting the CPD requirements helps us to keep up-to-date. A number of us will also (after a break) look to study something else or learn new skills on-the-job, recognising the importance of ongoing learning.
Online active career management and development services can help actuaries to remain relevant professionally. Technology-enabled, these services provide tools, tips and guidance to professionals on how to develop their careers, making tailored suggestions given their unique ambitions, background and potential. With personal experience of various professions, including the actuarial profession, online mentors can coach and support individuals digitally along their career paths.
Active career management is iterative by nature, adjusting as professionals make progress towards their goals, redefining what they want, and learning more about themselves and trends relevant to their careers. How they internalise and apply what they learn is a crucial part of their development. In our experience, a personalised on-demand approach helps individuals to assimilate change in a manageable way.
This personalisation means that what an actuary could learn depends very much on what their individual career goals are, their current situation and skills, and the timeframe for their ambitions. We have seen varied objectives across professionals, including differences among actuaries. For example, some want to learn something new, some are ambitious to get ahead, and others want to transition (say to a new specialism/area, to a new country, or return to work after some time away).
Broadly speaking, active career management services cover the following steps:
- Understanding ourselves, including our aspirations, motivators, strengths, career path and goals
- Improving ourselves through focused actions, feedback and opportunities to challenge ourselves – potential improvements are suggested by the service
- Tracking our progress given our personal definitions of success, and updating our long-term goals as we go
This can be done alone, or with the support of coaches or mentors. As professionals learn and grow, making ongoing improvements, the service can also remind them to re-evaluate their aspirations in the context of the evolving world in which we work, recognising that general commercial factors and trends can affect their progress as well as where they are aiming.
Readers will recognise that this framework for active career management mirrors the actuarial control cycle. Indeed, the actuarial outlook on long-term thinking and ongoing risk management has influenced the evolution of training and career management, especially as careers evolve over multiple decades. Simply put, career development requires us to (i) know ourselves (to specify our goals), (ii) improve ourselves (i.e. develop our solutions), and (iii) track our progress (i.e. monitor the outcomes), with the feedback helping us to better (re)define our goals.
The existence of active career management services now means that actuaries are digitally enabled to take strategic control of their careers, ensuring they move in the direction they want to and achieve their personal career goals.
There are a number of other common approaches to training and career management, including:
- University courses
- Self-study, perhaps supplemented with courses from online learning providers
- Support offered by professions themselves e.g. professionalism training
- Support provided by employers e.g. time-management courses
- Face-to-face coaching
These are very helpful to many students and professionals worldwide, often for specific purposes e.g. a recruiter can assist with finding a new job. In our view, the best solutions to career management are:
- long-term and ongoing (rather than transaction-based) precisely because careers last multiple decades, although individuals should be able to adjust the intensity as their needs fluctuate
- personalised (rather than generic), including suggestions born from practical experience in and knowledge of professions
- relational (rather than policing/rules-based) and supportive of the individual’s ambitions
- technology-enabled (rather than human-intensive) to widen accessibility
Looking to the Future
As actuaries, we know just how important ongoing training and lifelong learning are, especially in the context of careers which can span over forty years or more. In this context, career management is important, and as discussed above, tools exist that can enable us to make and sustain the proactive changes that lead to long-term career success. They can assist us to improve both our personal career fulfilment and earnings profile, including via engagements like coaching and mentoring by other professionals.
Staying relevant is about flexibility, and we believe that online services will support people to build the skills and confidence to take on new roles. This includes upskilling and becoming more comfortable with new technologies, and adapting to changes in the nature of work over time. Individuals who take an active approach, preparing and positioning themselves for the future, will benefit from greater career fulfilment and better earnings than those who wait for the change to happen around them.
In the years ahead, we will be working alongside machines even more, allowing us to outsource our routine work to them and instead focus more on creativity, strategy, ethics, design etc. Our interpersonal skills and ability to lead change effectively will become even more important, and a range of new roles will also emerge over time.
It is conceivable that artificial intelligence such as bots may be able to offer some initial training and career advice services to individuals looking for lower-cost ways to gain career input. This would allow human coaches and mentors to focus on the more strategic and complex situations, especially those involving interpersonal dynamics.
We also anticipate that there may be a need for companies and organisations to enhance their current training and mentoring services to provide more customised relevant offerings to in-house staff. Time will tell whether organisations continue to offer development and learning opportunities for their employees, or whether the responsibility shifts further onto individuals to manage their own career development.
The growth of contracting and gigging is another trend. As individuals working as contractors are effectively their own employers, they often miss out on corporate training programmes, and the responsibility for their career management sits squarely on them as individuals. Contractors should take active steps to ensure their skills remain relevant, and that they grow and develop as they take on different contracts.
Applying the control cycle to our careers (whether we are students, full-time employees, part-time employees, contractors, entrepreneurs, or are cultivating portfolio careers) can help us to define our career goals, make improvements, and monitor our progress, all against the backdrop of the emerging environment. This active approach can then lead us to greater fulfilment and professional success, however we personally define it. We very much look forward to the future of work and our role as professionals in defining human work and leading the change.
Bradley Shearer qualified as an actuary and is also a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA). He has worked in Insurance, Employee Benefits / Pensions, and Investments / Wealth Management over his career so far. He is Executive Director of Protagion, an active career management business for professionals, including actuaries, which works with individuals and organisations on how to develop our talent over the long-term.
Michael Jordan (FASSA/CERA) has embraced YouTube as a learning platform and has over 15000 subscribers. He encourages all his actuarial students to learn programming and stay abreast with technological advancements.
Valerie du Preez (Dupro Advisory) works as an actuary, focussing on developing sustainable finance and risk operating strategies and optimising key business drivers impacting organisational performance and financial accuracy, with the use of innovative technologies, including advanced data science tools and techniques.
For more information or to discuss your actuarial training or career contact firstname.lastname@example.org