Lee Gladwell says technical knowledge and skills are core assets that require constant revision

' Much of the technical training you completed five years ago will now be out of date. To retain a competitive edge companies need to ensure that the technical knowledge and skills of their people are kept up to speed. In an industry that is subject to rapid change, this has significant implications for training and development.

There have been a number of changes to the insurance environment in the last few years, including changes in the social and economic environment, distribution, legislation and regulation.

Take contract certainty. In only a couple of years this has come from nowhere to become a major issue, with the regulator taking a close interest in how the market devises solutions and implements improvements. The positive response to the CII's Certificate in Contract Wording shows the commitment of companies wanting to ensure that their people understand the issues.

Underwriters face new challenges, with new, emerging risks, often a result of developing technology. They are also increasingly asked to underwrite blocks of business rather than just individual risks, which call for different skill sets.

Claims specialists need to respond to changes in compensation culture and legislation, and tackle the perennial problem of fraud.

And consider payment protection insurance. This is a valid product that serves many customers well, but has generated a lot of debate in recent months. It is also being sold in an increasing number of markets, and by many people who are not insurance specialists. There is now a growing demand for training in this market, in a form that's easily accessible.

Companies and practitioners clearly need rapid, effective ways to stay ahead of the game, sustaining corporate competitiveness and individual career development potential.

So what are the implications for training and development?

First, professional institutes and other providers need to develop closer dialogues with the market through faculties and working groups. This will help ensure that the right issues are addressed, and in the most appropriate way.

Second, providers and companies need to think more broadly in terms of how they deliver and update knowledge, as well as in terms of qualifications. Examinations and qualifications are becoming more important as a means of demonstrating capability to customers and employers. But companies need to consider a broader T&C proposition and use a blended learning programme that also includes, for example, face-to-face training, online learning materials and mentoring, as well as self study and research.

Online solutions in particular offer a great deal in terms of speed and flexibility, and can test knowledge as well as deliver it.

Third, an increasing number of companies are seeing the benefit of setting up academies or universities, accredited by external bodies, to give a higher profile to their learning programmes, and greater visibility to staff and customers.

This approach clearly shows the value that an employer places on knowledge and skills. It encourages people to keep their knowledge up to date and helps to attract the best recruits by demonstrating that the employer encourages professional development.

And it helps maintain competitive edge in a market where knowledge and skills are core assets. IT

' Lee Gladwell is group sales and marketing director at the CII