Many insurance departments today are reeling under demanding work schedules, so organising time out for employees to embark on training programmes tends to be a critical balancing act.

This is something that Royal & SunAlliance has endeavoured to tackle with the launch this year of its underwriting college.

The aim of the college is to develop a highly skilled workforce to sustain competitive advantage. RSA believes this college will help it develop underwriters equipped to deal with all the changes that come with the 21st century.

Fiona Andrews, technical training practice leader, says: "Training is a bit of a balancing act so you have to convince line managers that it is an investment in their staff. If employees can take time out to train, the investment is paid back doublefold as they can handle work loads more efficiently and are better able to deal with customers."

The training programme for RSA's UK commercial division has been developed across three segments: core skills, developing expert and business management. It is unrelated to job levels or to the number of years in a given role. And although each segment has been developed with a target audience in mind, Andrews says this will not restrict employees from participating in training, as participation will be driven by the business need.

"There is a wealth of talent in this company and we wanted to think of a way of tapping into this by combining new and dynamic ways of training with old tried and tested practices," says Andrews.

The core skills training section develops the core competency of underwriting and these skills are transferable between a wide range of roles within the organisation.

The next step 'developing expert' builds on core skills. It develops knowledge and skills to an intermediate level and allows specialisation on detailed class/product training. It also introduces the concepts of account management and business management. Business Management focuses on the knowledge and skills required for underwriting and business managers. It incorporates exposure to strategic issues and account management at the higher levels.

"We don't want to be in a position where we will sheep dip people into modules. We intend to run this like a real college with a non-hierarchical structure. Investing in people is extremely important to us," she continues. "When someone joins us in an underwriting function, they start with an induction where they learn the practices and principles of insurance. Then we will look to build up their core skills such as risk perception and put it into the context of the commercial environment.

"Each of the modules is interlaced with the RSA business philosophy, but what it also does is show people the right way to do things. These are transferable skills and they can take them where ever they go."

Courses available in the Inspiration to Excel prospectus for 2000 include small business, core commercial motor underwriting, terrorism foundation, risk perception crime, core liability underwriting and risk management.

Employees, once they have identified a development need, consult their line manager, who helps assess development priorities and provide guidance on the options available.

Access to materials can be from coaching, mentoring, reading material, site visits, intranet discussion forums, CD-roms, workshop and residential events.

All materials incorporate action planning that will be directly related to team and business objectives.

"People don't have to go on these courses," says Andrews, "but what it shows is that we are putting our money where our mouth is.

"It is just for UK commercial at the moment, but it is getting rolled out to other parts of the company to make sure we work in the same direction throughout the world group.

"Insurance is a dynamic industry today as it is changes constantly.

"Providing staff with access to an initiative such as this gives them a sense of stability in these changing times and we mean to continue this and develop it further each year."