For many species the job of survival is extremely tough because predators or even their own kind are trying to make a meal out of them. Male alligators will eat their own young if they can get near them and a grizzly will savage another bear to get at its kill in tough times.

With the average age in the financial services industry hovering in the high 50s, there is a critical need for new and younger representatives to reach our growing population. Continuity of service depends on finding a crop of younger agents.

In the past, most major carriers had some form of recruitment plan to get new hires into the profession. The emphasis was on recruiting new people who hadn’t previously been in financial services. The expectation was that it was an investment and might take some time to get them trained.

All of that has changed, however. These days,it seems that the majority of the effort focuses on hiring experienced agents who are already producing. This means fewer resources spent on training and more left for acquisition. In short, these efforts are cannibalizing the industry.

That isn’t illegal or necessarily immoral, but I submit it is exacerbating the problem of the dearth of younger, new agents. It is a closed-loop scenario where natural attrition drains the pool.

At least one major, old line carrier has a new agent training program designed around the Life Underwriter Training Council courses. At the conclusion of their company training, new agents have also completed the requirements for the LUTCF designation.

Training of that nature provides an excellent grounding in the basics and helps those who are new to the industry,but it doesn’t address the age issue. New or apprised methods may be needed to rectify that.

At one point in time, internships were widely used to allow new prospects to gain exposure to the industry before making the career leap. In some cases, this was phone calling, filing and administrative tasks in the office. In others, especially around colleges and universities, various forms of licensure and compensation allowed new agents to actually begin selling and earning income.

Because many of these programs were aimed at the college crowd, participants were generally younger in age. They have waned in popularity and few of these programs seem to have survived.

One possible pool of above-average prospects would seem to be service members completing their military obligation. This is a relatively young group of people, most of whom have demonstrated a strong work ethic and who have already achieved success in difficult circumstances.

Ironically, tough economic times provide an excellent environment for finding and attracting high-quality talent to the industry. As individual companies or whole industries downsize or close their doors and turn out the lights, a large number of people suddenly find themselves out of work. Forced out of their comfortable employment nests, some of these newly unemployed might look into options they previously wouldn’t have considered. They are open to new possibilities.

Prospective new advisors from these more non-traditional venues bring expertise gained from disparate disciplines. This breath of fresh air can bring new perspectives on everything from client acquisition, to marketing or even product distribution and design.

There is also nothing wrong with finding new prospects from related industries such as banking, mortgage brokerage or the pure investment field. Many practitioners in these fields bridle at the one-dimensional aspect of their client interactions. In some cases, banking and investments in particular, they have little or no face-to-face contact for years on end, being limited to the telephone or electronic media.

In the insurance and financial planning arena, however, it is more common to have a multi-discipline approach. Here the process is almost always personal and accomplished directly with the client and other advisors.

Social media approaches to finding new agents may help position the recruiting messages in front of a younger, more tech-savvy audience. If recruited, that electronic proficiency could later translate into reaching out to a young clientele as well.

Ultimately, the health of the insurance and financial services distribution systems hinges on finding a steady stream of new practitioners. It would be healthier if a large number of these new converts were younger than has been the case in the past. Cannibalizing the carrier next door for talent doesn’t solve the problem.