Long hours of talks between sales specialists from three manufacturers and two major dealer groups have produced another landmark development for the retail motor industry. For the first time, nationally recognised qualifications have been introduced into vehicle sales, available exclusively through the IMI.
With salespeople playing a ‘front of house’ role in motor retailing, the qualifications - along with the performance standards needed to attain them - are seen as crucial to improving public perception of the industry. They are also intended to combat notoriously high levels of turnover among sales executives – up to 40 per cent a year is not uncommon.
“Nationally recognised standards and qualifications have been available for most other aspects of vehicle retailing for some years now – notably on the technical side,” said IMI chief executive Sarah Sillars. “The introduction of comparable standards to embrace salespeople has filled a glaring gap and marks another huge step forward for our industry.”
It’s the result of collaboration between the IMI and Automotive Skills, an organisation formed earlier this year to represent all retail motor industry interests as part of the government’s Sector Skills Council framework.
The sales qualifications comprise a Certificate (equivalent to level 2 of a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ), and a Diploma (equivalent to an NVQ level 3).
Candidates will be required to undertake a series of practical assignments, workplace assessments and internet-based examinations. The latter will feature an on-line system which the IMI pioneered for vehicle technicians. (More than 10,000 technicians, registered for national qualifications, have been tested on-line since the programme’s launch in 2001).
The sales qualifications are available to all employees, regardless of age, who are involved in the sales of any vehicle. Study costs are also eligible for government funding, through the Learning and Skills Councils.*
Ian Cheetham, standards and qualifications manager for Automotive Skills, said the benchmarking of standards “was the result of a long, hard slog” by representatives from Currie Motors, DaimlerChrysler, Lookers, Peugeot and Toyota, working on behalf of Automotive Skills. “It’s a unique achievement in that it’s the first ‘dual badged’ effort involving Automotive Skills and the IMI and illustrates the cementing of our relationship,” said Cheetham.
Gavin Hall, IMI business development manager, emphasised that the aim was to provide a national standard of sales performance. “Manufacturers still have the freedom to add their own enhancements to this benchmark to maintain brand differentiation,” he said.
Sheila McGregor, outgoing chief executive of Automotive Skills, saw the latest initiative as part of a wider programme to improve public perception of the industry and to make it a “first choice” career for young people.
Q. What are the costs involved?A. Given that companies will already be investing in training for their staff, any additional costs for this qualification have been kept to a minimum. The IMI charges a nominal registration and certification fee for all its candidates who are registered through its approved centre network. For the new sales qualifications, this would be £70 per person, which includes all moderation requirements and internet testing. Q. Realistically, how much of an impact will these qualifications have on the issue of high staff turnover?A. By encouraging staff to improve their skills, we would expect to see a significant benefit to businesses where the qualifications are available. Evidently, we will need to monitor the take-up of the programme in the long term to ascertain its effect on attrition rates.
Q. How much time will it take to study for this?A. Each qualification carries a recommended number of what are called ‘guided learning hours’. In the case of the Certificate, it’s 162 hours, and for the Diploma 180 hours. The actual amount of time will be influenced by each candidate’s level of existing knowledge and experience and this in turn will be governed by initial assessment.
Q. Can the internet testing be carried out in the workplace? A. Yes. For security purposes, however, each candidate needs to be logged onto the system by an IMI registered assessor, who also acts as an invigilator for the tests.
Q. Is there a target for take-up of the qualifications?A. Yes. The IMI is confident of achieving 1,000 candidate registrations by the start of 2005.