Learning and skills
Attract and retain…
…those were the watchwords at this year’s IMI learning and skills conference, with speakers underlining the need for consistent employer involvement in recruitment and training to guard against high drop-out rates.
Curse of the ‘blessed’ beliefBritain’s economy will continue to be afflicted by skills shortages while there’s a divide between academic and vocational achieve-ment, warns Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA).Delivering the keynote speech at the IMI’s learning and skills conference, Boston said: “This country still has an attitude embedded in its culture that those with academic abilities are somehow more ‘blessed’. Education falls neatly into academic and vocational categories with one leading to a profession and the other to a trade. If this attitude doesn’t change, and due regard isn’t given to vocational qualifications, Britain will be swept away by its competitors.”Boston referred to a study carried out by Ofsted into vocational practices in Denmark, the Netherlands and the state of New South Wales in Australia. All three were similar in that “employers determine the content of courses to give them currency and status aligned to economic needs… they are the first step on the rung to an occupation.“A vocation is held in much higher esteem (than the UK), having more credibility and substance than some remedial course.”Boston referred specifically to an auto training package in New South Wales where teachers are recruited from industry or working part-time in industry. “Vocational courses attract bright youngsters rather than just those who don’t feel able to cope with academic subjects.” He disagreed with the government’s target of 80 per cent of youngsters going into higher education, arguing that it would be more realistic and beneficial to have 50 per cent attaining an NVQ level 4 qualification and thereafter setting more modest percentage increases. He called for one qualification framework with flexible learning through college, the workplace and computer-based distance learning. Playing ‘catch-up’It’s not the lack of young people entering the retail motor trade that is causing skills shortages but the high drop-out rate, said Alan Mackrill, the Institute’s director of learning and skills.Studies had identified a shortfall of around 15,000 technicians, yet the IMI alone registered 14,000 new candidates over the past 12 months, mostly for modern apprenticeships.Mackrill said it was virtually impossible to get an accurate idea of drop-out rates, but reports from the Institute’s network of approved centres indicated that it was not as bad as the 40 per cent generally quoted. “Some manufacturer programmes are achieving as much as 90 per cent retention, while others are as low as 40 per cent.“But overall, the industry is playing catch-up – recruiting a fresh intake to plug the gap of those who leave. The result is high workforce turnover which aids and abets a low level of customer satisfaction, and so the industry’s poor image perpetuates itself.”Mackrill said recruitment retention was a critical part of IMI policy. Research – comprising telephone surveys and fieldwork quizzing candidates, trainers and key stake holders – was aimed at identifying areas of good practice and recommending measures to improve course completion rates.Results so far showed that factors which encourage retention included: recruitment fairs and events, pre-course familiarisation visits, competence-based selection tests, one-to-one selection interviews focusing on candidate attitudes, parental contact and employer involvementDominant issues which adversely affected retention were individual pay and conditions, poor career advice and too much administrative paperwork.
Doing simple things wellHonda’s hard-headed approach to apprenticeship training is summed up by programme manager Steven Price. “The programme is part of Honda’s efforts to increase market share,” he said. “We’re neither seeking merely to keep youngsters occupied for three years or want candidates who see no other option than a motor trade career.”What Honda is aiming for is “to provide its dealer network with a steady supply of fully qualified and technically able technicians with well developed brand loyalty”.The company’s apprenticeship programme has been running in its present format since May of 2001, delivered from the Honda Institute at Langley, Berkshire, with a team of six trainers and five business development managers.Candidate numbers have grown from around 90 to 250, with a retention rate currently running at 91 per cent.Recruitment takes place through the dealer network, with typically four candidates for each vacancy. “It has to be emphasised that the apprentice programme is not something that is foisted on dealers – it’s very much a joint agreement,” said Price.Assessment includes literacy and numeracy tests (a psychometric test is also under consideration) and an interview with the business development manager. Successful candidates are then allocated a mentor and undergo a weekly progress report, which includes a ‘traffic light’ section to highlight any problems.“To maximise retention, we focus on three issues: do the simple things very well, work with the employer at every level to support the apprentice and be well informed and able to act quickly,” said Price.
What the IMI offersGiving an update of the IMI’s routes to qualification, Steve Scofield, qualifications development co-ordinator, said that all ‘offers’ had to meet the following criteria: to meet the needs of industry, encourage new entrants to the industry and help retain them, offer a clear and flexible career/progression path for individuals, and meet the needs of IMI centres.The Institute was now able to offer qualifications embracing light and heavy vehicle, motorcycle, body repair and refinishing. Routes under development included motor-sport, lift truck and auto electrical.
Star centresIMI business development manager Gavin Hall paid tribute to the work of the Institute’s centres, likening them to the best athletes “who have vision, belief and commitment”.Centres who attracted candidates of the right calibre did so by investing in interviewing and testing resources, challenging mis-conceptions which many young people have of the industry and unashamedly setting high standards.Hall said the centres played a pivotal role in the IMI’s level 1 award - “entry point for a serious career in the motor industry” – which had so far attracted more than 1,000 cand-idates. This is expected to double by September of next year.Like Honda’s Steven Price, Hall said regular employer involvement was essential if high retention was to be maintained. “Other practices should include exit interviews – identifying the reasons for any candidate loss – and consistent one-to-one interviews so that problems can be quickly spotted and put right.”