What's the biggest trend in insurance training these days? Patricia McCarthy, past president of the Society of Insurance Trainers and Educators, and the training director for claims for Allstate in Northbrook, Ill., says that training is increasingly geared towards helping companies achieve their strategic goals. “There is less emphasis on how many training events occur,” she says, “and more on whether they are the right kind of events that will truly impact performance and, ultimately, business results.”

That said, the amount of insurance training does appear to be increasing. The latest Society of Insurance Trainers and Educators benchmarking survey, in 2003, found that 43 percent of the surveyed companies reported bigger training budgets, a trend that Wes Porter, director of training, American Institute for CPCU (Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters) in Malvern, Pa., says is certainly continuing. The reason? “Speed of change,” he says. “Sometimes you have to be nimble in the marketplace. You have to be able to change the direction of your ship abruptly, and trainers can be extremely helpful in that process because they bring the right skill sets.”

According to McCarthy, insurance companies are ramping up training due to the implementation of new products, the introduction of new technologies, and changes in continuing education requirements, such as newly established continuing education requirements in Florida. Both McCarthy and Porter point out that there are also increasing demands for certain types of industry certifications. For example, because of the automobile industry's rapid adoption of new engineering concepts, Allstate is requiring its claims adjusters to earn its I-CAR Platinum designation, certifying that they have enhanced their technical knowledge of repair technologies and processes.

A Generational Divide

With increased emphasis on training and education in the insurance industry, there is also more importance being placed on the quality of those doing the training. “As a trainer, I'm held accountable for people improving their job performance,” Porter says. He has been an industry educator/trainer since 1974, and has had to constantly adapt his teaching methods through the years. Beyond the obvious changes like advances in technology, Porter and other older trainers have to deal with a widening generation gap between themselves and younger students.

“If I talk about a blackboard when I'm teaching,” Porter notes, “I get blank looks. And a reference to a ‘broken record’ doesn't do anything. You have to change teaching styles.”

The pace at which training is given has also changed. “People no longer have time,” Porter says. “You can't go from A to Z at some leisurely pace.” Accelerated programs are now expected and provided, he says. “People won't commit to 15 weeks for a college-level course, so you'll see it tailored to last only five weeks.”

Perhaps the most significant trend, Porter believes, is that increasingly informed students aren't afraid to confront trainers. “You have to expect to be challenged,” he says. “Students go on the Internet and quickly find the information they need to challenge you. As trainers, we need to be just as diligent.”