As John Signer puts it, Sheboygan, Wis., “is not the hub for finding experienced professionals in the insurance industry.”

And that's why, Signer says, it's so important that a company like the Acuity Mutual Insurance Co., based in Sheboygan, has a solid education and training program in place to attract and retain promising individuals.

Signer, Acuity's director of human resources, cites the company's emphasis on training and education as a key to its being named one of the top medium-sized companies to work for by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Great Place to Work Institute Inc. The company's corporate training programs, which range from in-house courses to partnerships with the University of Wisconsin in Madison, provide employees not only with skills and technical training, but also with leadership development.

While there are many different factors that go into making a company a great place to work, “training is a big one for a lot of organizations,” says Frank Scanlan, a spokesman for SHRM, located in Alexandria, Va. “Training keeps employees engaged and excited,” he says. As well, offering strong training programs will go a long way towards establishing a company's credibility in the eyes of employees, says Lisa Ratner, project manager for the GPWII.

An increased emphasis on training may be in the cards for growing numbers of insurance and financial services companies. In another important ranking, American Fidelity Assurance Co. of Oklahoma City, Okla., was named one of Fortune magazine's 100 best companies to work for in 2004. In its January write-up, Fortune specifically mentioned the company's outstanding education and training programs. Bev Wood, corporate training manager for American Fidelity, says that feedback shows “[our employees] really appreciate all the educational opportunities we provide.”

These include a Prospective Management Program, a Comprehensive Leadership and Management Program, 24-hour, seven-day-a-week access to online learning, and tuition reimbursement programs that allow employees to pursue bachelor's and master's degrees. The company also provides life management training, including courses on personal finance, obtaining mortgages, managing debt, and stress management, among others.

The emphasis on training has become more pronounced over the last four years, Wood says. “With the competitive nature of the market, the company is looking to the future, and the need to grow more leaders.”