Any business looking to grow needs access to technology talent — and health insurers are no exception. That talent pool is key and, if constrained, will inhibit a plan’s business goals, according to Michelle Billingsley, senior vice president and chief delivery officer for Visiant, a Medicare Advantage (MA) technology and consulting firm, who spoke at an Oct. 31 America’s Health Insurance Plans webinar on technology talent management strategies for payers.

“There is a lot of change going on in the health care and technology environment,” said Billingsley, who prior to working for Visiant led information technology operations at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s Blue Care Network, among other leadership roles during her 14-year stint at the insurer. “As this continues to grow, it definitely has an impact on talent management.”

Health insurers need to form an IT talent management plan that aligns to their business strategy. It also should take into account the insurer’s environment, the changing workplace and the region where it is located, she said.

Competition is fierce for IT staffers because health plans have to compete with many other industries for a limited pool, she said. It takes relentlessness and use of formal and ongoing informal approaches to recruit and retain IT talent, she said.

‘We Were in Constant Competition’

While working at Michigan Blue Cross, Billingsley said she had to vie for tech talent against firms in other sectors. “We were in constant competition for [IT talent],” she said, “You constantly have to keep an eye on it.”

Another challenge is the evolving tech environment. “It’s changing every day with so many emerging technologies that are continuing to require better and newer skill sets,” Billingsley said. There is an increased demand and competition for these skill sets, including cybersecurity, cloud computing and data analytics. Cybersecurity skills are in especially high demand, but hard to find.

CyberSeek, a program of the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), reported that “in 2016 there were 112,000 openings for information security analysts, but only 96,870 workers currently employed in those positions — an annual talent shortfall of over 15,000 workers for cybersecurity’s largest job.” In addition, “there are 200,000 additional openings requesting cybersecurity-related skills, and employers are struggling to find workers who possess them. Jobs requesting cloud security skills, for example, remain open 96 days on average — longer than any other IT skill,” NICE said.

The regional job market will play a factor in a plan’s search, according to Billingsley. If the company is located in a region where technology is “part of the economic fabric,” it will be easier to find IT specialists. Areas that don’t have a high tech demand may do better offering relocation to attract people from other parts of the country, and even from the world. “You have to be able to look anywhere and everywhere for the right talent,” she said.

Talent management is not “a one and done,” Billingsley said. Insurers should update their tech talent management strategy on a monthly basis, because there will always be attrition and new threats in the market. Leaders need to ask if they have the right mix of resources, not just for now, but for out on the horizon. “If you lead an IT team, at least every other staff meeting, look at your talent management plan and continue to adjust it,” she said.

“Recruiting needs to be continuous, agile, relentless and adaptive,” Billingsley said. This might include creating a reputation with local colleges as an attractive place to work. Networking in the community is also important. “Recruitment isn’t just about a good job description,” she said. Even if an insurer doesn’t have an open need for IT talent, it “should be looking anyway. There’s that much change, so always be on the lookout,” she said. In addition, “don’t go to the same well. Go to different sources for recruiting.”

Plans also must understand the changing workplace. “It’s not always about money,” she said. Potential recruits are interested in such non-monetary perks as finding purpose, working closer to home, being part of a team and having flexible hours. “Never underestimate the value of focusing on some of the softer things,” she said. “So many other levers are coming into play. More and more, [money] is not the only part of the discussion.”

Another way for a carrier to ensure it has enough IT talent is to grow its own. “Sometimes you can’t just acquire it; you have to train and develop your talent. You might have a bright rising star, but [that person] won’t meet your needs going forward if you don’t train them as the technology changes.”

The best approach for an insurer is to plan ahead for the technologies it will need to leverage for its business plan over the next five years. “Choose three or four areas where you will need talent, and then remember that within several years, you will probably need more,” Billingsley said.

Read the NICE report at