Alison Kirkpatrick, Consultant at Joslin Rowe Associates, outlines why providing training helps recruit the managers of the future....

There has been much discussion in recent years on the skill shortages within the insurance industry, and there are encouraging signs of change. The existing problems are most noticeable at management level, and it would appear that very little money is being invested in training. However, many firms have recently implemented a number of training initiatives to nurture potential with a view to developing the managers of the future.

In the past, firms have been put off investing in their staff for fear of them being poached, especially as the market became more and more competitive during the late nineties. When looking to fill a job, many employers would rather wait several months for the right person with the exact skills to come along - someone who could hit the ground running - rather than invest in training. What insurers need to do, and what many have begun to do, is start at the bottom, by bringing in fresh graduates and school-leavers and implementing structured training programmes. The graduates of today are, after all, the managers of tomorrow.

Many would argue that insurance suffers from some image problems, which is affecting graduate intake. This is unfortunate, as the industry really can offer a challenging and rewarding career. Undeniably, there is now fierce competition from more "glamorous" industries, such as e-commerce and internet start-ups, so insurance firms should be doing something to mark themselves out from the crowd. Further development of training programs would certainly help. Whilst high salaries will be perhaps the biggest draw-card for graduates, training is generally high on their wish-list. Graduates who enter a company offering good training feel they are enhancing their fast-track to management level.

Independent Insurance is one of the companies which has taken on the risk of investing heavily in training - and it appears to have paid off. They are the first insurance group to win the Investors in People Award for the third time, and according to Penny Copeland, training and development manager for the north, the group will continue to invest in training, as the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Last year, for example, Independent were struggling to find underwriters with the right qualities and discipline levels. In October, they recruited 11 trainees, with no previous underwriting experience, who undertook a solid three-month training program, followed by time spent with various departments. These recruits have since been subjected to ongoing testing, to ensure they are on the right track. "We found this training program to be hugely successful. All the trainees we recruited are still with us, and they are all getting on very well."

The widely acknowledged skill shortage dates back several years to the early to mid nineties, when firms hit hard by the recession were more concerned with survival than in planning for the long-term future. The type of individual sought within insurance also evolved towards the end of the last century. Recruitment consultancies were not being asked to assist in the hiring of traditional underwriters, brokers or claims personnel. They were being requested to source multi-skilled individuals who were capable of carrying out roles that would have been performed by two or more people in the past.

In addition to this, many organisations have recently been involved in major structural change through consolidation, mergers and acquisitions, during which time the hiring and development of young blood has not been a priority.

Whilst there are clearly insurance firms out there who are forward-thinking and pro-active in their approach to training and development, others will need to follow by example in order to maintain an adequate skill base for the future of their organisation, and equip the industry with the appropriate managers to operate it. The success of any company is based on the staff they hire and the importance that is attached to their future development.