Last month, Insurance Times joined forces with recruitment, training and consultancy business Searchlight Solutions to develop a new initiative to help companies in the insurance industry become better employers. The scheme will address the growing problem of skills shortages in the UK insurance market and aid the planning of career paths to produce a more motivated workforce.

While the largest insurers have long been able to provide training academies, smaller companies are constrained by tighter budgets. Searchlight Solutions, which decided to take part in the initiative itself, wants to prove that all employers can do something to make their company a more rewarding place to work, in a cost-effective way. Some of the participants have decided to aim for Investors in People (IIP) accreditation. In this update, we look at the companies that undertook the challenge to see how their staff have benefited.

GAB Robins UK
The main focus of GAB Robins UK's ambitious training and development scheme is an externally accredited standard of technical competence for unqualified claims handling staff.

The training initiative is managed by a committee of three staff at GAB Robins: UK technical director Graham Burgess, divisional director commercial Chris Day and me, customer service and personal lines manager Mike Odell.

GAB Robins UK believes it is fundamental that operational staff participate in developing the training strategy, so that there is a correlation between the training needs of the business and the emphasis of the training initiative.

While the National Education Committee has focused on developing the training plan, the implementation will be managed by area education officers, based in the eight regions of the UK. They need to ensure that local staff and management embrace the training, even in the face of enormous day-to-day pressures.

The programme will need to accommodate regional variations, where appropriate, while maintaining a consistent philosophy.

In recognition of the importance of area education officers' role, GAB Robins UK recently arranged a “Training the Trainer” awareness workshop. The course, designed and presented by Viv Redgrave of Searchlight Solutions, aimed to explain:

  • the stages and process of individual learning
  • different learning styles
  • how to set objectives
  • how to plan and prepare a training session
  • the steps to the successful design and structure of a course
  • the importance of evaluation.

    In addition to the need to provide the regional personnel with the tools to effectively manage and deliver training locally, the course gives the group the chance to jointly review the firm's training philosophy. The establishment of individual relationships will facilitate the sharing of knowledge and experience.

    The training has already included a fraud awareness course. In April, there will be a series of technical training sessions related to building claims. There are also plans to teach an interpersonal skills course throughout the UK between April and October 2001.

  • Mike Odell is customer service and personal lines manager at GAB Robins UK.

    Searchlight Solutions
    Searchlight's plan is to work towards an IIP accreditation itself. A key element of this will centre on ensuring that staff and business associates are kept up-to-date with everything that is going on within this fast-moving business. They should also have the chance to contribute their ideas, to help us achieve the objectives we have set ourselves.

    At Searchlight, we consult on staff communication as part of our services to employers. However, it is vital that we practice what we preach. We have started by introducing briefing sessions, which are informal two-way channels hosted by directors.

    Not all our staff and business associates are on site, so we now publish our own newsletter to ensure our communication reaches everyone responsible for the provision of our services.

    We plan to introduce staff focus groups to encourage feedback, new ideas and initiatives. We would also like to use our expertise in organising staff seminars within Searchlight itself. These events can be great fun and help in team-building, communication and reward.

    Our plans are consistent with achieving IIP accreditation, but make sound business sense in any case. In a people business, our staff are our only asset. They make the vital difference. It is only right they are properly trained and informed.

  • Peter Farmer is a director of Searchlight Solutions.

    Accidentcare Group
    Since our director agreed to go forward with the Investors in People (IIP) scheme, the operational teams have begun to implement staff communication measures.

    Operations – we don't call it a call centre as it is a far cry from the stereotype – is Accidentcare's nerve centre. It is where we receive the first call from our members, reporting their accidents. This is the only call the customer should have to make, as we provide them with two updates per week on progress on their claim.

    We have already implemented induction training, performance appraisals and communications.

    Fortunately, we have discovered that our performance management system is unlikely to alter much as it works extremely well. We have a three-month and then an annual appraisal for all staff. This gives them the chance to gather their ideas prior to the interview, and provides the manager with a format for recording all the quantitative, qualitative and behavioural measures for any successful review.

    One change, however, will be the strict adherence to development targets, making sure that staff have regular follow-up discussions with managers after the appraisal.

    Previously, induction training was very ad-hoc, involving lots of individual tuition, with little form or monitoring. The managers have now introduced a formal induction plan. This diary of events disciplines the managers into timetabling training events and subjects, as well as giving the inductee an opportunity to manage their expectations.

    We accept that staff feedback is critical to business success.

    Staff retention is always an area to review. The IIP implementation should provide us with the tools to measure the reasons why staff wish to leave the company, such as too little progression, travelling issues, poor morale or indeed, why they stay. We are proud of our retention percentages but this is no reason to be complacent.

  • Jon Pike is Accidentcare Group's operations manager.

    Zenith Insurance
    Zenith Insurance has made a significant start in its training and development programme. Most claims employees have started studying for their professional CII exams, via a mix of distance learning and in-house CD-Rom facilities.

    Zenith's in-house technical training is now well established. A dedicated trainer carries out a full induction scheme for employees new to the claims area; this includes system training, reserving philosophy awareness and training on other individual topics.

    Since last autumn, Zenith has also run a series of external courses with its training provider, Searchlight Solutions, including:

  • telephone and customer services skills
  • telephone skills for claims negotiators
  • appraisal training for all supervisors and controllers
  • general technical training for all claims and underwriting staff
  • specialist technical training for all claims and underwriting staff
  • team-working for all staff.

    Zenith believes it is important for all staff to be involved in training, so “core” education events will be held regularly, both for people joining the company and for those transferring within the business. Advanced and refresher training is also on offer.

    There has been a clear improvement in the performance of all departments, teams and individuals since training began, and this is directly helping business objectives to be met.

    We have received positive feedback and constructive comments on how training can be developed.

    As an added bonus, the programme has also provided everyone with the chance to mix with staff from different departments.

  • John O'Shea is Zenith Insurance's operations director.