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.
In August of 2019, Nafees Ahmad enrolled in the CIP program and set himself an ambitious target to complete the program within 2020. Recognizing how important the CIP was right at the start of his insurance career, Nafees posted his goals on his LinkedIn profile to give himself extra motivation to get it done within his timeframe. But then the pandemic hit.
Nafees feared he would not be able to fulfill his commitment. “In April, when exams got canceled, I thought it would be very difficult to finish my CIP within 2020. But the Institute’s quick and resourceful approach in coming up with an effective plan to avoid disruptions was a game changer. Although online exams from home with virtual proctoring took some getting used to, they were instrumental in ensuring I could continue my education without compromising my health.”
Prior to the pandemic, Nafees was enrolling in a mix of distance learning and in-class learning courses so when the in-class learning was no longer an option, he was able to transition into online learning without much hassle. He also experimented with the choice of courses to keep his interest going.
“Insurance is a broad subject, and the Institute has a variety of courses to choose from, especially in the applied professional category. To maintain my interest and curiosity, I chose the marine courses which provided a new dimension to my knowledge with a lot of interesting facts about global trade and how insurance was fundamental in it.”
Like many people, Nafees says managing the work/home/education/life balance was not straight forward. He began allocating early mornings and weekends for study while preserving the evening time for family.
“Striking a fine balance, though difficult, is crucial to the success in both professional and personal life,” says Nafees. He found it difficult to keep his energy level up after long days at work and study and the lock down was also taking its toll. “Playing with my son or a conversation over a cup of tea with my wife would do the trick to make things better. Without the support of my family, it would be difficult to go through the lock down, let alone going through with professional education.”
But Nafees said he used different strategies to get most out of his time. “Left without an option to study in a class or a library, an early morning study session with a fresh mind really helped me go through the syllabus. Additionally, I used both the paperback and the PDF versions to change things up. The PDF version enabled me to study on my tablet by personalizing the view and fonts. This along with practice questions, flashcards, quizzes, and trivia games went a long way in my success in the exams.”
He suggests spending time with family, setting time specific goals and monitoring progress to cope with stress. “These are unprecedented times. They require us to stick together as a family and keep focusing on the future. Goal setting and implementing strategies to achieve them can help reduce the psychological impacts of the pandemic. But since we are bound to stay home more, why not read a book or, better still, go for a designation which will impart knowledge and provide a platform for a successful professional career.”
Finally, Nafees says that he believes continuing your professional education is more important than ever now. “The world is changing at a rapid pace and so is the landscape of insurance. Staying current with the changes and new developments is a must. Professional education provides this in a structured manner and equips students with powerful tools to tackle new challenges. Education is especially vital in these extraordinary times as it offers a competitive edge in an uncertain labor market.”
Himanshu Aggarwal has completed six CIP courses in the last two semesters and is taking two classes this fall.
When he decided to take three courses simultaneously his manager was concerned. “She said that it would be really hard for me, especially working full time. That sometimes the stress can become so great that we cannot focus on our studies.” He assured her that he would give each course the necessary attention and stay on top of his work. “She believed in me and was amazed when she heard my results.”
At the start of his program Himanshu worked out a system to juggle his studies and work. However, his careful balancing act was disrupted by the pandemic in March. “I used to study during my lunch break at work and spend time in the library at the end of the day, but now due to COVID-19 all this had to be changed. Offices are closed so I have to work from home. I’ve started waking up early in the morning to study before starting work, I’m more organized and I prioritize the things which should be done.”
He found the Institute’s tools very useful one he’d transitioned to the virtual format. “The online tutorials have been a great help in these hard times and access to PDF versions of the books have made it easier to study.”
Himanshu never considered taking a break from his studies. “I have been working in the insurance industry for over a year and I believe that in order to sharpen my skills and gain better knowledge of the industry I have to pursue my CIP. My career path is focused and clear.”
To other students grappling with the recent changes and trying to stay on course he says, “’Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ Just be clear on what you want to achieve and start working towards it. You will certainly get there.”
Careful planning and a strong support network keep Ginette Hardy moving forward towards her education, career and life goals. Ginette is currently working from home, studying insurance at college and working towards her CIP designation while juggling the demands of being a mom to two energetic young boys.
How does she do it? “It’s simple,” says Ginette, “plan, plan and plan.” It's easier for me to focus on the task in hand rather than look at the whole picture. I have to plan family, work, college and CIP courses. I find that if I organize my days, everything falls into place and it never feels stressful or too much for me to cope with. If I organize each element effectively, then all elements work together, complimenting each other.”
In March, Ginette says her life totally transferred to online including working from home and her college studies. “Studying for my CIP designation has just become an extension of this.” When the pandemic hit, Ginette said she was grateful that the Institute was very quick to act to the changing environment. “In what was a very uncomfortable and unknown situation at the beginning, the Institute always made me feel like I was a part of their extended family. I never felt as though I needed to reach out with concerns or questions as information was always released well before I thought of them.”
Dealing with the unknown has been the most stressful part about these times but Ginette says she quickly realized that it wasn't going to change any time soon and that the more she worried about it, the less time she would actually have to change it. “I quickly surrounded myself with an online support network from my colleagues at college. Supporting and helping each other was by far the best thing for me to combat stress. I believe that you have to have a support network if you want to not just move forward, but to move forward together. Just because we are all online, it doesn't mean that we are all alone.”
Ginette says despite the uncertainty, she is convinced that this is the BEST time to be in education. “When we exit this pandemic and return to the ‘new normal’, my new-found confidence, knowledge, skills and qualifications will put me in great standing for the future I'm working towards. I truly believe that online learning is an opportunity that everyone should embrace, there's a great sense of camaraderie within the insurance industry at the moment and it's a wonderful time to be involved, insurance changes every day and if we can embrace this snapshot in time and move with it, the future can only get brighter.”
Her advice to anyone considering working towards their CIP designation during these challenging times? “If I can study and gain my qualifications, anyone can. We recently moved to Ontario, we have no family here to support us, I'm a full-time mum, I study full-time at college while also working as a P&C Agent for Desjardins. We have planned out our future goals together as a family and we know that this is very short term for a very long-term future.”
Prateek Sahni started his Canadian education journey in January 2020. He enrolled for Insurance and Risk Management at Fanshawe College, London, Ontario with a view to enter the insurance industry after.
When the lock-down began in March, he found making the shift from in-class to virtual learning a steep learning curve. “Going online was not easy, especially when you are new to the teaching method and new to a country. You start losing trust and confidence in yourself.”
At the start of the year his daily schedule had been arranged around his classes, but the pandemic forced him to make some significant changes.
“I typically start my day with my college online classes, followed by the group assignments over Zoom calls, then end my evenings reading course material.” He found rewarding himself with good home-cooked meals or taking a break to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate helped him to stay focused and motivated.
Aside from scheduling, the move to online exams, and the delay of exams from April to June, created more hurdles he had to overcome. Yet, he is glad the Institute moved quickly to find a way to deliver exams virtually.
Rolling with the changes
“It was not something I was expecting on my path towards my CIP, but the Insurance Institute really helped to get me across. If the virtual exams were cancelled, students like me would have been really upset and would have lost out.”
Prateek has taken three courses so far this year and hopes to enroll for four new courses over fall.
“I have tried to adapt to the new normal; safety and well-being is the first priority for everyone. I would not want my health to be sacrificed but I wouldn’t want my education to be delayed either.”
He recommends fellow learners or those considering taking a course organise their time carefully. “What are the things you wish to complete in the coming months? Focus your energy on things that make you feel positive. Learn new courses online, speak to your peers about new trends in the insurance world. Get enough sleep, take breaks, and eat healthy. All that will help you to get through this difficult time.”
Despite a tumultuous year, Jessie Lally is excited to have successful completed both the CIP and Risk Management programs.
Jessie started her CIP a year after leaving university and was pleased to find that the array of study methods available during her degree program were similar to those offered by IIC. She chose to study through a combination of virtual classes and distance learning. “Virtual classes made it easier to keep on top of coursework and readings as there were dedicated class times which you needed to be prepared for. With distance courses it was up to you to remain motivated and stay on top of your readings. I chose distance learning when I had a vacation planned during a semester to avoid missing out on classes or assignments.”
Though she wasn’t in a classroom, Jessie felt very supported. “The instructors were always available for additional help and feedback”. And she found features like recap webinar sessions (hosted before final exams) helped her study and prepare for exams.
The combination of study modes worked well over the years. “It wasn't too difficult to manage the work/home/education life balance pre Covid-19.” However, those lines blurred in March. Jessie was studying for her final CIP course when the lockdown began. “I had to ensure I established boundaries, that work was between these set hours and then schedule time for studying.” The postponement of her exams from April to June was another challenge. “It was difficult to remain motivated and to keep the [course] material fresh.”
Jessie found it helped to remind herself that she wasn’t alone, that many others were experiencing the same challenges. This approach helped, as did resisting the temptation to worry. She advises others who might be struggling to “focus on what you can control in your day to day and not what you can't control. Focus on your mental and physical well-being. Don't feel guilty about taking some ‘me’ time.”
Jessie is really pleased that she was able to power through and complete the CIP and Risk Management programs as planned. She believes continuing education is vital in the insurance industry. “The world is changing at a rapid pace and this industry reacts to those changes. By continuing your education you are keeping up with the trends and are improving as a professional.” She believes the pandemic gave us a little more time: “Why not spend it learning?”
Natasha Schofield graduated from the CIP program in 2011. She was awarded the Top CIP Claims Series in Manitoba, and followed that up by obtaining her CRM designation through the University of Winnipeg in 2013. In 2017 Natasha completed the Advanced CIP program to qualify for the Fellowship program and has been studying for her FCIP designation since. She will be starting her fifth course, F550 – Emerging Issues: Implications for the P&C Insurance Leader this September and is delighted to still be on schedule for graduation in 2022.
“The pandemic didn’t affect my schooling, thankfully. My classes were already online with mandated interactions and deadlines.”
It helped that she already worked from home prior to the lockdown. The biggest difficulty she had while studying during the pandemic was keeping her three-year-old daughter entertained.
“Together we read the news and did my research, and sometimes I’d hear a “Good Job Mommy!” from what should have been a sleeping child’s bedroom when I’d exclaim to myself as I finished a paragraph or found a relevant reference.”
Staying on track with her courses is a huge priority. “Education in an industry like ours is imperative – new risks are continually emerging, and old risks are continually evolving. For me, being able to complete courses throughout the pandemic meant I could continue my professional growth and maintain my 2022 graduation date.”
Natasha has found the Institute to be very hands-on in meeting her needs. “There have been a couple of occasions when I have missed the enrolment deadline and Fee Yun Liu, the Educational Coordinator, has ensured that my place is secured.” She felt supported with everything from registration to sorting out priority shipping, so her textbooks arrived on time. “The things they do for their students are appreciated by busy professionals like myself.”
She’s also appreciated how forward-looking the Institute had been when it comes to technology. “I’ve been able to witness the progress over the last 15 years from in-class teachings and hand-written exams, to remote learning with computer-based exams. The Insurance Institute has been amazing in implementing technology to enhance their programs.”
When it comes to juggling home, work and study Natasha believes flexibility is vital. It defines her approach to managing her various responsibilities: “Work, school, toddler – all of these demand hours of attention each day, and usually overlap. Staying flexible is key – the best laid plans always need adjustments.”
For anyone struggling during these stressful times, she offers the following tips:
1) Ask for help if you need it. We are all in this together.
2) FaceTime with your family and friends. Stay connected with them.
3) Go play with your kids (or your pet). Make the most of this mandated time with your household.
“Stressing over the things we can’t change and have no control over will do a body no good. Focus on the things you can control – the love you give your family; the quality of time you give to others; and the quality of time you give to yourself. A slower pace of life really isn’t a bad thing.”
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.”