By Bonnie Sinnock

Millennial-age workers recently outnumbered their Gen-X peers for the first time ever. But the average loan officer is 54 years old, and industry groups are taking steps to help expand outreach to the next generation of mortgage professionals.

According to first-quarter data from the Pew Research Center, more than 53 million workers are millennials born between 1980 and the early 2000s, while there are less than 53 million Generation X workers born between 1960 and 1980. But the issue isn’t just a matter of lenders needing to add fresh legs to their rosters. The millennial demographic also represents a future crop of borrowers that lenders have so far found difficult to serve.

“We’ve had extensive dialog and concern about the aging workforce population in the industry and the need to bring in younger people to mortgage banking,” said David Stevens, president and CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association. “Part of that means that we need to bring in a more diverse workforce.”

In January, the MBA launched a two-week primer on the mortgage industry to prepare college students for internships and entry-level positions at lenders. It works with universities and colleges to promote the online course, which costs $250 but also has scholarship opportunities.

But the focus on millennials isn’t just about attracting youth to the mortgage industry and its products. The racial and ethnic diversity of the overall U.S. population is evolving, and the mortgage workforce should reflect that.

“If you think about the 12-to-14 million new households that are going to be formed in the next decade, the Latino community is going to make up the largest single segment of household formation,” said Stevens.

Hispanic families have roughly one-fifth the wealth of non-Hispanic families but their wealth share is growing, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The average Hispanic homeownership rate, at roughly 45%, lags theoverall national average of almost 64%. Part of the reason for this lies in the industry’s tight underwriting standardsthat make it difficult for Hispanic borrowers to qualify for a loan, according to the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals.

But the lack of diversity in mortgage banking may also play a role, something the MBA’s Stevens said “is absolutely the case.”

The U.S. financial industry has employed a largely white workforce when it comes to loan officer and credit counseling positions, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics for 2006-2010. About 74% are white, almost 11% are Hispanic, close to 9% are black, and almost 5% are Asian, with the remaining balance representing multiracial groups and other races.

That’s why the MBA is working with NAHREP and other groups to promote its online training to college students from Hispanic and other minority communities. It’s too early to tell if the course will actually help students get their foot in the door with mortgage companies, but Stevens is optimistic lenders will use it to identify promising young talent.

“That certification will be recognized by the industry partners who will be looking to employ them in internships,” he said, adding some lenders might also consider course participants for entry-level jobs.

In addition to helping with outreach at colleges, NAHREP intends to work with its member companies to promote the availability of students who have received the training, possibly including an online job board, said Marisa Calderon, the group’s associate director and chief of staff.

“The idea really is not even so much to target individuals who are necessarily getting into the industry, but really exposing a broader range of individuals, and specifically Hispanics, to the mortgage banking industry,” she said.

“It’s been our experience that those who do get into the mortgage banking industry don’t necessarily do so intentionally. It sort of happens by chance. We would love for there to be more intentional flow of individuals into the mortgage banking industry,” she added.

College education is increasingly important for mortgage professionals of all backgrounds because of the increased complexity of the industry’s regulatory and compliance requirements, said John Councilman, president of National Association of Mortgage Brokers.

“We would like to see colleges and universities directing people to the mortgage industry,” he said.

NAMB recently started a diversity and inclusion committee that brings together established industry professional who represent and mentor various demographics, including minorities, veterans and women. Promoting a diverse workforce helps ensure a more talented workforce, Councilman said.

“It’s kind of healthy to have a little competition to get a job, and that’s why we want to make sure that there are enough people seeking those jobs, from all walks of life,” he said.