All of our lives have been touched by the global pandemic. We've had to adapt and learn to do ordinary things in new ways. To understand your experiences, we've been talking with IIC students and instructors about their lives, the changes they have made to accommodate their education, the challenges they have faced and the things they have learned over the last few weeks. We hope their stories will inspire you.
Alexa Moore is currently enrolled in the CIP program. She has completed three courses (C11, C12 and C14), and is in the midst of two courses this semester (C13 and C120). When she registered for three CIP courses in January her colleagues were surprised. “Being relatively new to the industry and a new grad I knew I was ready to take it on full speed ahead,” she says explaining her decision. She completed all three courses with Honours.
She says the switch from in-class to online study in March did present some challenges. “I would typically spend my morning and evening commute studying but have now had to set aside specific reading time since that structure has been dissolved.” Alexa also found that being home all day made days feel repetitive and monotonous. She began making a point of breaking it up with movement. “Whether it was sitting on the GO train or in the office, my surroundings were different throughout the day before, so I have been trying to mimic that on a smaller scale within my house and moving to different rooms to get a feeling of change.”
Further help in coping with the lock-down changes came from the Insurance Institute. “Being able to take exams virtually has been an amazing accommodation. This being my first exam season, I wasn’t sure what to expect and with the curveball of online exams I was even more uneasy. But the Institute made it a breeze.” Alexa found the technology guides and exam “breakdowns” were vital for preparation and made sitting the exams a very smooth experience. She also enjoyed the Weekend Warrior condensed classes that were made available. “I was thankful to still be able to learn in this format just through Adobe Connect rather than in person.”
Dedicated time slots
When it came to balancing work and study, Alexa found time management was crucial. “I started my current role during this crazy time, so training for a new role, taking online classes, and managing a social life as well has been a struggle. I’m doing my best to split my days into work – study – social sections and I’m sticking to a schedule.”
She advises fellow students that creating a dedicated workspace can be helpful when drawing boundaries around different sections of your life. “Having a designated spot where I sit and work only within the designated hours helps maintain the office feel, as does leaving that spot once work is over until the next day. This divide helps you shut off from work once the day is over. It’s so important to have that evening and weekend break to de-stress and ensure you’re taking time for yourself.”
She also notes the importance of maintaining connections with friends and co-workers. “Starting a new role virtually was a bit daunting as I have still not met any of the colleagues that I work with on a daily basis, but having video calls and keeping up constant contact with friends and family can really help reduce the anxiety felt during these uncertain times and ease your mind when thinking about what the future could look like.”
Despite the challenges, Alexa is glad she continued with the educational plans she had set for 2020. “I’m an advocate for continuous learning. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. I believe there is always room for improvement and there are always new things to learn, especially with the industry evolving, it’s important to stay on top of the current trends and markets so that you can bring your A game to work every day.”
Martin Kratochvil is currently taking the General Insurance Essentials virtual course and will be starting C130 Essential Skills for the Insurance Broker and Agent in spring.
He says he had no doubts about continuing his studies. “Regardless of where you are, you need to take the opportunities that are within your reach to strive for where you want to be.”
Martin has found that self motivation is key when he is studying online. “You have to be ready to interact, to participate and have your questions prepared.” He has also discovered that setting weekly and longer-term goals help him manage his time.
Having the opportunity to discuss difficulties with his instructor has also helped Martin stay focused. “The instructor’s knowledge and enthusiasm for the material created a positive learning environment that instilled a desire to continue my studies.” He has enjoyed all his communications with the Institute. “The professionalism that I have experienced from all my interactions with the Insurance Institute staff has further reinforced in me that this is an organization that takes pride in doing great work and is an industry that I want to be part of.”
Martin suggests we can all reduce our daily stresses with a simple mantra: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” He adds, “I have found that keeping yourself focused on things that are within your control allows the “noise” to flow in the background and your mind to stay centred on what is essential.”
For most insurance professionals, earning a CIP designation means juggling the demands of a full-time job and possibly a family while finding time each day for studies. With five children at home, Melissa Gelinas made good use of her lunch hours and breaks at work to spend time on her courses. But since the COVID-19 outbreak, Melissa, like most of us, has had to work from home making finding a quiet place to study almost impossible.
Melissa is determined to keep her education goals moving forward, however – even during the pandemic. “I’m enrolled in course number 7 of 10 for my CIP designation. I’m over halfway done and looking forward to getting to the finish line… so are my kids,” says Melissa.
Flexibility is key
Already used to doing her courses online, Melissa says she is grateful for the fact that the teachers are always there to help if she needs it. She appreciates the flexibility the program has given her as well as the help and advice she’s received from the Institute along the way. “I’ve had to do one course at a time and take them when I can to put less stress on myself and my kids. The Institute has been there since the beginning of my journey, from introducing me to the different career options in insurance, to giving me advice on the insurance industry in general.”
Although Melissa finds it very hard to balance work, life and studies, especially now, she believes continuing her education during this stressful time is very important. “If keeps my mind busy and positive. It’s a good break from the chaos we are all going through right now.”
Earning her CIP designation has taken a lot of planning and organizing and with social distancing Melissa can’t even escape to a coffee shop to work on her courses. “I have to find another place that is peaceful to me and where I don’t have someone screaming ‘Mom’ every five minutes. Studying in the car is not fun or comfortable but as soon as I can find another space, I will be able to get back into studying for my new CIP course which started April 13th.”
Michael Caron teaches C70: Gateway to Commercial Insurance in BC. He says he used to shy away from virtual classes preferring to teach the in-class option. “I was concerned about potential tech challenges and diminished student engagement.” However, when the Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lock down required all IIC’s classes to move online, Michael was pleasantly surprised by the change. “By the end of the first virtual class I knew my fears were unfounded. The class is engaged to the same point, and possibly more, and I have had no tech problems or glitches.”
He thinks right now is the ideal time for students to embrace continuing education courses. “I am completely biased because I teach and I teach in one of the best industries around, so I feel education is always important,“ he admits, but adds: “our industry is going through some very large changes. Monumental sized merger and acquisitions both on the broker and insurer side of the business. In BC we have one of the largest changes coming to our Crown Corporation Auto Plan. Additionally, you have a hard market that came quickly after a prolonged soft market. On top of all of this – COVID-19.”
Michael regularly chats with his C70 students about the challenges. “We are a virtual class of insurance professionals sharing information and learning from each other so that we can return knowledge and experience to our own companies.” The interaction not only helps build awareness; it also develops relationships. “Our industry is unique in that it’s a people-based network of tightly knit talent. The more names you know in the industry, the more you can ask for help and offer your wisdom to others.”
Michael finds working from home can add another layer of challenge. “Once your home becomes your workplace, it is easy for the lines to become blurred and an 8-hour day can quickly turn into 12 hours.” He tries to mitigate this danger by establishing start and end times for his work day. He also integrates mental health breaks into his day. “I treat them like I would any other scheduled meeting.” Finally, he finds that talking regularly to other people helps alleviate the stress. “Make sure you reach out to your coworkers, managers and direct reports often. Verbalizing what you are thinking or feeling is more than half the battle.”