Changing Education from a Chore to a Cheer

By Debbie Ivie | August 5, 2019

Professional designations are in the DNA of the insurance industry.

For decades, we have proudly posted credentials as authentication of commitment and industry knowledge.

But learning offers value far beyond the initials after one’s name. The 2018 Best Practices Study Update lauded two productivity boosts for small independent agencies from 1993-2018:

  • Revenue per Employee: +120%
  • Pro Forma Pre-Tax Profit: +129%

“Technology, increased specialization, better employee training and development, and improvements in the quality of management have all helped improve performance,” said Bobby Reagan, CEO of Reagan Consulting.

But we can’t continue to leave learning to tradition. We must create new learning tracks and change our educational culture. Why? Products are rapidly diversifying. Customer preferences are changing. Markets are expanding without geographical limitations. Agencies are shifting from generalists to specialists.

If we continue to train our employees in 2020 the way we did in 2010, our firms will struggle.

However, most agencies are small and can’t support in-house training. While consultants, technology user groups, and industry associations provide education, IA firms face barriers to using them: They perceive high cost. They fear a one-size-fits-all approach won’t solve their needs. And they need to train as quickly as possible.

Workers flow to employers that most fully meet their needs, including development and growth. To be competitive, we must create a new learning culture.

Status Quo: Cram & Refresh

I love learning. My workday is devoted to creating effective learning. But I see agencies depending too much on the status quo. As an industry, we lag behind in educational delivery methods. We need to quicken the pace of curriculum delivery.

Our traditional hiring and training cycle goes like this: “Get ’em licensed with a cram course. Then have staff teach ’em our way.”

I call what follows next “refresh learning” — satisfying credential or continuing ed requirements.

This cram-and-refresh method is the way many agency leaders learned the business, so they tend to trust it. But to stay ahead, leaders must introduce a more effective learning culture.

Culture of Empowerment by Education

Growth agencies of the next 25 years, in my view, will take a strategic approach that expands knowledge in existing areas as well as in emerging fields. Education will no longer be a boring requirement, but a means to empowerment. Agency leaders will guide their workers from a mindset of “I have to pass this course to keep my job” to “This course is a company benefit that will help me and my company to grow.”

So where does an agency leader start?

First, leaders must know better to do better. Before formulating a different learning model, principals must educate themselves about industry trends, available educational resources, and the learning culture under their own roof.

Second, don’t reinvent the wheel. While an education strategy must suit the firm, it need not be entirely original. Agency peers are improving their own company learning cultures with:

  • Tuition for business and life-skills training.
  • Paid time off to attend classes.
  • Support for volunteer efforts.
  • Career days and mentorship.
  • Collaborating with colleges and universities.
  • Sabbaticals to pursue deep learning.
  • Lunch-and-learns with in-house and invited speakers.
  • Supporting attendance at industry conferences.
  • Hosting networking events and workshops

Third, make it a team effort.

Some agencies set up internal teams to create in-house courses to share what they know or have learned at education events. Others are creating mentoring programs.

This business I love is acting from a position of strength. Agencies want to push education beyond required CE courses. IA professionals want to connect through networking opportunities. Employees are tapping online courses for knowledge in sales, relationship-building, and technical skills.

About Debbie Ivie

Ivie is the learning experiences manager of NetVU, the Network of Vertafore Users.

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Insurance Journal West August 5, 2019
August 5, 2019
Insurance Journal West Magazine

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