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IMI Magazine

COVER FEATURE - 'Skills badge' to raise standards.

Backers of the Automotive Technician Accreditation (ATA) venture say it will be the most effective system yet devised to improve consumer confidence in garage work and raise the status of technicians.

ATA has been launched as an industry self-regulation scheme following government reluctance to introduce statutory licensing of garages.

It will be governed and administered by the Institute of the Motor Industry, whose chairman Steve Nash – aftersales director of BMW – said: “The introduction of a unilateral benchmark of technical competence for the retail motor sector will clearly identify skilled individuals, which is as important to consumers as it is to employers seeking qualified technicians. ATA will reinforce efforts to improve career development and elevate the status of a highly important and creditable profession.”

Trevor Finn, head of the UK’s biggest dealer group, Pendragon, said of the ATA launch: “It will raise the game on the whole issue of the industry’s credibility and give the consumer peace of mind.”

SMMT chief executive Christopher Macgowan said: “As well as providing a benchmark of competence, ATA delivers a real technician career path and should help to reduce high staff turnover.” 

So, how will the scheme operate? To achieve accreditation, a technician must pass a series of practical and theory tests through an ATA-registered assessor. There will be three levels of accreditation to reflect the technician’s existing job role, experience and qualifications:

  • Service Maintenance Technician 
  • Diagnostic Technician  
  • Master Technician  

Technicians are required to sign the ATA code of conduct before an assessment. Successful candidates will be issued with a photo identity card, valid for five years, and put on a national register. Those who fail any stage of the assessment will have the opportunity to receive training support before applying for another test.

The scheme is the result of a three-year project by major industry stakeholders and other representative bodies and has the backing of Automotive Skills, the sector skills council for the retail motor industry. It’s been launched nationwide following a series of trials carried out last year by BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Durham Constabulary, Ford, Hertz, Nationwide Autocentres, Unipart and Toyota. Other companies now taking part include Mondial Assistance, Peugeot, Volkswagen and Volvo.

Unipart chief executive John Neill commented: “As a pilot partner, the values and objectives of ATA have been embraced by everyone at Unipart as it fits with our philosophy of continuing professional development. We will be rolling out this initiative nationally to our Car Care network, which has given us excellent feedback during the pilot phase.”

At the launch, it was announced that some 500 tech-nicians nationwide have already qualified for ATA status. The aim is to have at least 50 per cent of vehicle servicing and repair businesses actively supporting the programme within the next five years.

ATA assessments are based on National Occupational Standards to ensure that the programme keeps abreast of changing skills requirements and future innovations in technology. ATA-registered technicians will be re-assessed every five years to maintain their credentials and listing on an internet public register (www.automotivetechnician.org.uk).

Though ATA is currently confined to technicians, Automotive Skills has set up a task force to look at the feasibility of a similar accreditation programme for other customer service roles throughout the industry. Peter Johnson, chairman of Automotive Skills, commented: “The development of a system of voluntary but effective self-regulation is a powerful argument in setting standards across the industry. One of ATA’s key aims is to drive up skills, in line with the demands of changing technology, to demonstrate that we are serious about standards of competence and giving our customers outstanding service.”

Organisations supporting this initiative include the Department of Trade and Industry, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, Retail Motor Industry Federation, Trading Standards Institute, British Standards Institution and Which?

How to get ATA status and what it costs:

There are two routes to achieving Automotive Technician Accreditation status, both independently audited by the IMI:

  • Via an ATA approved assessment centre, such as a training division of a nationwide service and repair organisation; an independent automotive training provider; or college of further education.
  • Via an ATA approved vehicle manufacturer assessment programme.

The recommended fee for ATA assessment is under £195, although fees may vary regionally. There is an individual single accreditation fee of £50, which includes registration, on-line testing, issue of the ATA photo identity card and all administration requirements. Fees are valid for five years and are exempt from VAT.

Further information can be viewed at www.automotivetechnician.org.uk or by telephoning 01992 511521.

Question time:

ATA is voluntary, so how will it protect consumers against rogue businesses? Surely, legislation is the only real solution?Throughout the development of ATA, discussions have taken place with the Government, which has no plans at this juncture to introduce legislation. However, ATA does provide key standards which would be suitable in the event of mandatory licensing. 

The National Consumer Council says that self-regulation has ‘failed time and again’, with 11 different schemes over the last 30 years. What makes ATA any different?The industry is frequently criticised for short-term initiatives that are brand initiated and become flavour of the month. ATA is not about any one brand or any one sector of the retail auto industry - it's a cross industry skills accreditation for technicians. ATA has not only got support from industry and government  bodies; more importantly it has an inclusiveness and robustness about it for the sector to embrace. It covers the franchised and the independent sector and is based on occupational standards - not a set of standards that can change with a whim and only get adopted by particular brands. The great news is that there is a push from people joining the sector to have national recognition. ATA can add that to any brand.

How many ATA approved assessment centres are currently up and running and what are the plans for growing the network? Some 30 organisations have already been approved, including vehicle manufacturers, national service and repair organisations, colleges of further education and independent automotive training providers. An extensive marketing campaign is underway to increase the network to 50 by the end of 2005.

How do you propose to encourage reputable businesses with established customer bases to get involved, as they might view the initiative as an unnecessary cost?Feedback at the IMI suggests that many reputable outlets view ATA as an opportunity to add value to their business by recognising technical expertise and generating a competitive advantage. ATA is extremely cost effective – investment works out as little as £1 per week. Research carried out by Which? found that 95% of motorists are prepared to pay an extra £5 on the cost of a service if their vehicle was in the hands of a technician who was monitored effectively.

Is there an arbitration service in the event of a complaint against an ATA technician? Any customer complaints may be referred to the IMI which will determine whether the technician has acted in accordance with the ATA code of conduct.  If there is a case to answer, this could lead to accreditation being withdrawn.  However, this procedure will not be used as a method of agreeing compensation or restitution, which is a matter for the business concerned.

How does ATA dovetail with existing vehicle manufacturer standards?A number of manufacturers have competence testing processes which have been mapped to the ATA system, enabling technicians to achieve industry-wide recognition.

Will ATA cater for other disciplines such as motorcycle technicians and MOT testers?The ATA model can be applied to other technical disciplines and discussions have taken place with other sectors to identify parallel accreditation, including motorcycle and fast-fit.