For our April print edition, I wrote a story about generation Y. This story and the corresponding Web component required me to interview consumers in their 20s. As I talked to them, I asked them to describe insurance agents for me. Almost every single one of them used words like “middle-aged,” “older,” “married with kids;” in other words, no one thinks of insurance agents as a young group.

Since 1985, the full-time agent population has decreased from 275,000 to 175,000, according to LIMRA. According to ASJ’s own research, the average age of an agent is 54 – with an age range of 22 to 84 (Agent Media’s 2009 Brokerage Study).

Why is the agent population decreasing in size and rising in age so much? Though no one can say for certain, there are several factors potentially at play. Some people point to the shift away from career agencies and toward independent producers. When captive insurers were more popular, they had the training capacity to support new agents and make them successful in the field. But as more and more carriers open independent distribution channels, and more and more agents leave their captive roots behind, there is no one left to train or recruit new agents. Now, recruiting is left up to BGAs, who may or may not have the resources to dedicate to training brand-new agents.

Couple the lack of training with the general distrust of the financial industry, and it’s no wonder that not many college graduates are clamoring to start careers as insurance agents. But the agent population is dwindling – the overall population isn’t. And people still need financial advice when it comes to retirement planning, life insurance, health insurance, Medicare, and the innumerable other services that insurance agents provide.

There are some things you can do to help. You might want to consider, for example, getting involved with a college or young agent mentoring program. NAIFA, for example, has a wonderful group called the Young Advisors Team which is just for agents under 40. ASJ has published articles in the past about the importance of mentoring the next generation of agents.

What about you? Where do you think the next generation of insurance agents will come from? Do you think the industry needs to step up their game and recruit, or do you think it’s only a matter of time before demand rises and younger people become interested in careers as agents?

Heather Trese is the associate editor of the Agent’s Sales Journal.