Everyone has a dream job when they are growing up. Many a child dreamed of becoming a doctor, actress or airline pilot. The odds are, though, that the vast majority of those dreams didn't feature the insurance industry.

Yet, according to figures from the Association of British Insurance, there were 350,000 people employed in insurance companies, Lloyd's, insurance brokers and other occupations auxiliary to insurance in 1997.

Today the insurance arena is a lively, thriving work place as more and more companies place emphasis on staff development and training. The job for life may have disappeared but the long-term career is very much an active notion.

The Insurance Times Career Focus is a new weekly addition and aims to give insurance professionals of every level practical advice on how to get ahead in insurance. Whether you are a claims handler interested in how much others are earning in your field or a broker pondering on your next career move, this section will give you a leading edge.

Each week we will feature a column written by a recruitment expert or leading company on all aspects of recruitment, including training, professional qualifications and how to conduct a successful job search.

There will be a section providing you with news and views about issues that can affect your career such as legislation and the impact of new mergers and acquisitions. We also plan to run a series of regional focuses looking at how opportunities differ across the country plus company profiles assessing the training and likely career developments you will encounter if employed by these top firms.

As union chief Roger Lyons, general secretary of MSF, said, the insurance sector of the economy has undergone an unprecedented level of change and that has created new challenges.

He says: "The combined effect of all this change has been the loss of one of the foundations stones of the insurance industry's relationship with its staff; that is the expectation that subject to satisfactory performance, they would have a job for life.

"One of the challenges that needs to be met is how can employees invest in training for their own career development."

A survey by CGU last year found that more people work in insurance now than they did five years ago and despite consolidation and headline job losses, recruitment consultants are reporting more demand than ever for their services.

There has, however, been a change in the sort of skills being sought and some recruitment experts are reporting a shortage of quality people to fill key positions. Training, seizing moments and planning ahead have never been more important.

Whether you want to progress further in your current role, are looking to find a new opportunity or are a company searching for that right candidate then the Insurance Times Career Focus should be your first point of call to achieve your dreams.