SITE Benchmarking Study CLASSROOM STILL TOPS FOR TRAINING When the results of its 1999 Training Benchmarking Study were presented at the Society of Insurance Trainers and Educators (SITE) Annual Conference this summer, attendees were surprised by reports of staffing and budget increases.

Nearly half of respondents said their departments grew in size over the past two years, while 61 percent reported budget hikes.

Lois Markovich, executive director of SITE and a senior consultant at the Burke Strategic Consulting Group, which conducted the survey, says many SITE conference attendees insisted their staffs are shrinking and believe the responses reflect mergers, not new hirings. Markovich says the survey did not ask the reason for the staff increases. "Next time, we will want to find out more in terms of mergers," she says.

SITE member respondents reported a range of annual budgets from 14 percent with no budget to 33 percent with more than $500,000. Reports of budget increases are in line with the most recent ICP Reader Survey, in which the per-person spending at training meetings in 1998 was up 50 percent over 1996, and 43 percent of respondents said they would hold more training meetings this year than last year.

SITE President Ken Dauscher, who helped write the survey questions, says he was glad to see that computer-based training is gaining ground in the insurance industry, with 67 percent of respondents having used the technology. Still, the leading method by far remains the classroom, used by 99 percent of respondents.

One idea gaining in popularity is calculating the return on investment in training programs. Still practiced by only 16 percent, it is nonetheless being considered by nearly a third of respondents. "People see [measuring ROI] as valuable," Markovich explains, "but it's difficult and time-consuming." And most survey respondents probably don't have time for new projects: More than half cited their workloads as their greatest challenge.

This year's survey was the first of its kind for SITE, which may repeat the survey in two years.