When you take agents away from their families and jobs for two weeks at a time, and then charge for it, the experience better be worthwhile.

Considering the demand for, and response to, The Academy at Grange's Commercial Producer Development Program, “It seems like we're doing something right.” says Irene Sewer, training and research manager for Grange Insurance Mutual Group of Columbus, Ohio, and the coordinator of the academy. The program, one of many educational offerings at the academy, was introduced in 2004 as a way of meeting demand from agents for more varied learning opportunities. Held in the Columbus home office, it has become the learning center's signature offering. The content, says Sewer, is geared towards inexperienced commercial lines producers. “It takes them through a sales and technical skills process, designed to jump-start production with us.”

The program was first held in the fall of 2005, and a second session was offered this spring. Feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive,” says Sewer. “Our agents are asking us to offer the program more than once a year,” she notes. So far, 54 agents have completed the course. (All told, about 800 agents took classes through Grange in 2005, a number that is expected to double this year).

CPDP attendees, who stay at a local four-star hotel, spend much of the first week of the program immersed in selling-skills training. The second week covers technical skills development, as well as “soft skills” such as time management and setting up a work/life balance. Tuition, on average, is $3,500, although agents from Grange's senior partner agencies receive discounts.

Training space in Grange's home office consists of computer rooms, classrooms, and study lounges to provide a “complete learning experience,” Sewer says. And holding the two-week session at the home office also exposes agents to the corporate culture, “It gives them the opportunity to understand the atmosphere,” says Sewer. “They can meet the underwriters, our leadership team, and even talk one-on-one with our CEO.”

The education doesn't end when the two weeks are over. Included in the fee is yearlong access to a follow-up training coach, who is available to meet one-on-one with attendees at least four times a year. Attendees also get together in quarterly online conferences for some peer-to-peer communication.

Next on the menu at Grange is an executive development program, expected to be introduced in 2007. “We understand that our agencies are professionals and experts in sales,” Sewer says. “But sometimes they don't know how to put together all the components that are necessary to run a business to make sure an agency is successful. It's the kind of business acumen that is important for agency owners, particularly beginning owners, to have.”