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Learning & Skills - Industry training chiefs join forces

Training the network

By Geoff Matthews, head of The Honda Institute

The training scenario in many modern businesses is a Catch-22. The dealer network understands the benefits of a skilled and motivated workforce and knows that staff cannot learn all the skills they need to excel by staying at the dealership. The flipside of this is that while technicians or sales teams are away learning, the dealership is short-staffed and the perception grows that jobs aren’t being completed, customers can’t get through to their usual contact and that the showroom is not closing enough deals.

What can the motor manufacturers do to address the dilemma and get dealers more involved in the training process? Honda has been actively changing perceptions by taking training to the dealer principals.

Here at The Honda Institute we have busy classrooms, full courses and good buy-in from the dealer network. Training, once seen by the network as an added luxury or an expensive way to lose your skilled staff to a neighbouring dealer, is now in integral part of their business plans. It improves staff retention, increases skills transfer within the workplace, drastically increases first-time-fix rates, improves morale and ultimately improves the health of the business and boosts profitability.

We have seen a steady rise in the number of dealerships putting staff through training courses and the recent rounds of our dealer principal Residential Forums have continued Honda’s focus on the crux of the car businesses. We have developed a very good understanding of what makes each individual dealership tick. From here we can identify areas of limitation and develop bespoke training programmes that only target problem areas. Then we can address and develop the skills of key personnel to ensure that business challenges are met with confidence and that goals are achieved.

Feedback so far this year has been extremely positive with dealers being very pragmatic about the issues covered in their Development Centre meetings. We will continue to integrate training and personnel development into the car network and Honda will continue to reap the rewards for having one of the best facilities in the world for this particular skills challenge.

Thirst for knowledge is an intrinsic part of the Honda corporate DNA. You need look no further than our parts advisor and technician of the year contests to see how serious the network gets about training.Future WatchFor the near future, The Honda Institute is looking forward to integrating training further into the dealers’ everyday lives. With regular reporting and network-wide appraisals we will be able to target areas that need attention and deal with business issues before they have any impact on the day-to-day running of the dealership.

Mobile training and in-dealership activities will increase as new models are unveiled, but a centre of excellence for technical and business training will remain necessary, especially as car technologies move on. Diagnostic skills will become more prevalent and good technicians will become key members of the dealerships’ teams.

Looking further into the future, cars are already being built with increasingly sophisticated self-diagnostic technologies. With developments in on-board sensors and communications equipment, the maintenance of cars belonging to the next generation of motorist may well be predicted, arranged and automatically paid for by the car. I’ll let you know when we’ve developed a training programme for this eventuality!

Investing in the individual

By Marc Matthew, managing director of Ford dealer group Lifestyle Europe.

In an industry not traditionally noted for treating its staff as a valuable human resource, there is likely to be a sea change in the next few years that could well see many of the less enlightened motor retailers falling by the wayside.

Over the next five years, the retail motor industry will need to adapt its approach to training and education to ensure that its employees acquire the key skills necessary to fulfil the wide range of activities. These range from customer service and increasingly sophisticated sales techniques to the traditional engineering and the new electronic skills required by  technical staff.  In short, the motor retail sector will have to start projecting itself as a training and development ground for all the various functions within the dealer franchise and not just the traditional, technical side of the business. 

To meet the increasing demands of car manufacturers post block exemption and also embrace the systematic approach to training that has become the training standards element of the Franchise Dealer Agreement, the face of staff training has had to change within the dealer network and this will become an ever more time-consuming and financial burden for the dealer.

The traditional training needs analysis route of developing staff in response to skills shortages in all areas has changed into a structured assessment that has led to formalised training channels which are not wholly successful in filling skills gaps for individuals. 

Apprenticeship schemes

The best-known entry level training for technical staff  is provided by the time-honoured apprenticeship scheme, now supported by National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) which are gaining credibility within the industry.

The development of manufacturer-run educational establishments provides trainees with opportunities for achieving the dual goals of attaining NVQs and attending the manufacturer-specific courses. Thus the qualified technician will complete his or her apprenticeship with a set of recognised, transferable core skills that will help to enhance their careers in the motor industry.

Technological advances in vehicle engineering will require technical apprenticeships to adapt to this new technology at the same time as ensuring that the essential traditional engineering skills are maintained. Consequently, apprenticeship programmes should adjust the mix with, on the one hand, a reduction of emphasis on the heavy engineering side and, on the other, increasing the emphasis on electronic skills. Despite the advance of diagnostics, there will always be a need for the traditional vehicle technician/accident repair centre specialists to maintain the 30m  vehicles on the UK roads.

Retaining commitment

Though apprenticeships will continue to play an important part in skills development, the challenge is to retain the commitment of the apprentice for the duration of the training programme and the support of the employer for the apprentice. Industry statistics show that there are high numbers of apprentices that do not complete their training programme – a tragic waste of valuable skills, dealer and educational time. 

The Government’s pre-apprenticeship scheme targets the 14-16 age bracket within schools and permits part-time workplace training to be undertaken alongside their formal education (a special report on this will appear in the September issue of MIM). This scheme enables the industry to tap into a source of future labour by developing dealer relationships with local education providers and enhancing their perception of the motor industry as an attractive career choice. 

There must always be an incentive for the industry to develop and grow its own talent as competent, professional and committed staff are a return on investment in terms of productivity and profitability. The ability of the industry to recruit for attitude, and train for skill through its systematic training programmes, will further develop the incentive to grow its own talent for the future. 

Sophisticated consumer demand

The increasingly sophisticated demands of the car consumer are impacting on motor dealers and it is evident that in areas such as customer service the high expectation levels of customers, and the need for the dealer to ensure customer satisfaction, result in a need for improvements in customer service training.

The future will bring with it a requirement for recognised professional standards in the sales arena to further enhance the reputation of the motor industry. Broad industry standards and recognised manufacturer training programmes will also ensure this trend continues.

The role of Automotive Skills in the future development of our industry will be to promote links between the dealer network and the educational system, including careers services, by ensuring that the motor industry is a viable career choice. Careers opportunities in sales, accident repair centres, and for traditional vehicle technicians need to be promoted more and the Sector Skills Council must communicate effectively the benefits of working in the motor retail industry and the opportunities that are available to individuals.

The Sector Skills Council should try to build on the reputation of our industry, promote good practice and champion the success of individuals and companies both from within the industry and in the wider business world. The challenge of persuading high quality candidates from other industries to consider motor retailing as a career path and bring with them transferable skills and a fresh perspective are all part of ensuring a healthy and successful future for our industry.

Where does it all go wrong?

by Pete Turner, MD of  Automotive Advantage

“But Pete that’s where it all goes wrong …we sell the car and it’s the after-sales department that loses the customer,”  a dealer principal to complained to me the other day.  I kind of understood his frustration.

The work carried out by the Office of Fair Trading and the series of reports and investigations into the automotive repair sector have clearly told us that this is true.  We are failing the consumer.  And the evidence for this? The recent Mystery Shopping research by the DTI made it staggeringly obvious with findings such as these: -

• 40% of garages failed to undertake services correctly on vehicles owned by males• 58% failed to undertake services correctly on vehicles owned by females• 17% carried out unnecessary work   • 43% do not provide accurate quotes• 86% missed faults on vehiclesSource - DTI Mystery Shop 2002

Our industry even misses the point of what we call our area of business, i.e. aftersales – surely this sector should be called presales because this is its true role?  Maybe then we would give it the focus and development we need, to address our failings.

Research carried out by Automotive Advantage and assisted by the Institute of the Motor Industry earlier this year also concluded that the retail motor sector must fundamentally change its recruitment and selection procedures if it wishes to make improvements in levels of customer service.  Over 82% of the sample of more than 500 customer contact people who were assessed for their natural behavioural style failed to match anything approximating the behavioural demands of the job.  When they were assessed for their actual “on the job” behaviour less than 10% matched the same criterion.

So we know that dealers - or following the block exemption changes we should now be calling them authorised repairers - need to improve their levels of operation, but how?

The changes to block exemption mean that manufacturers can set qualitative minimum standards for their authorised repairers. These in the main have so far focused on material specification such as height of entrances and equipment requirements etc but they can also set standards in how the customer is treated. In effect this means that although they can’t dictate to an authorised repairer who to employ they can say they must in effect meet certain ability criteria.

For technicians this is possibly even going to go to the extent of licensing. 

But what about the critical role of service advisor? 

Some vehicle manufacturers such as DaimlerChrysler are setting European-wide minimum criteria for this role with written examinations, behaviour assessments and role-plays to ensure the standard is met.  This emphasis on assessment or certification is likely to increase dramatically as the block exemption regulations appear to loosen the control that the manufacturer has on compulsory training.  So this means that authorised repairers are likely to see more exacting European-wide minimum behavioural / competence based standards and consequently more training in an attempt to raise the ability levels. 

This is heavily influenced by patterns in Germany where culturally the service advisor is seen to be much more significant in the successful operation of an authorised repairer. The structure of the block exemption standards means that failure to have certified staff in place would automatically disbar authorised repairers from the franchise. The consequence of this to a dealer is unthinkable.

 All of this will also place more emphasis on selection of appropriate service advisors and “as you can’t teach a pig to sing” there will have to be more science applied to recruitment.  More qualified staff will become a very desirable “commodity”. 

A threat to the profitability for the authorised repairer perhaps, though good news for the service advisor, and overall it should start to develop a true presales customer experience that can deliver the customer back to the sales department time and time again.

A promising future

by Andy Moore, director of EMTEC Colleges.

The future for training and education in the motor industry looks promising. 

In recent years the emphasis has been firmly on encouraging young people to move on to higher education rather than pursue vocational training at 16, an avenue, until now, seen as being less attractive as a career option.  This has left the motor industry short of young people at a time when it is also experiencing a severe skills shortage generally. 

This widening skills gap is predicted to continue until at least 2012 and is seriously impacting upon profitability across all areas of their business.

But the situation looks set to change.  There are a number of new initiatives already in the pipeline to encourage young people back into the industry and the industry itself is doing much to address the whole issue of training and education.

Apprenticeships at last appear to have found favour with the current Government and are being actively promoted.  The motor industry should be one of the sectors to benefit from this renewed interest and support. 

At the same time the range of apprenticeships available is being widened.  We are likely to see pre-apprenticeships for 14 to 16 year olds as a growing trend, following the success of a pilot scheme that EMTEC, the IMI, the Learning and Skills Council and Toyota launched last year which is being expanded for September. 

Young apprenticeships, for those in year 11, are also being piloted with the backing of the LSC and the Automotive Sector Skills Council.  Both initiatives will give young people an important insight into the range of career opportunities in the industry and hook them in at an earlier age. 

In addition, apprenticeships for motor vehicle technicians are no longer the only option when it comes to a career in the industry.  There are now 12 different types of apprenticeships on offer as well as manufacturer -pecific apprenticeships developed and delivered by companies like EMTEC, which combine the dual benefits of high quality brand focused training with work place based learning.

Not only will this provide a welcome boost in terms of numbers attracted to the industry but it will also ultimately lead to measurable improvements in quality standards of customer service.

Such developments need to be widely marketed and communicated to young people as well as to those who influence their decision on their chosen career path such as their family, school and careers officers.

Managing to attract youngsters into the industry with promises of a successful career and long term job opportunities is simply not enough.  In order to retain them within the industry we need to make sure that their promises are met and exceeded wherever possible.  The learning experience needs to be of the highest quality with the employment of the latest blended learning methods combined with the best facilities and support mechanisms.  Much of this is already in place and I am confident that this trend will continue with further EMTEC regional centres of excellence for training being established and new technology increasingly being used in delivery.

But addressing the apprenticeship issue is not enough for the industry to move forward.  Skills and competence at all levels need to be addressed via the establishment and implementation of a cohesive people development strategy.  Not only will such an approach ensure quality at all levels within the organisation but it will also lead to consistency on a national and international level. 

Already many of the major motor manufacturers are starting to address the issue in this way on a global level to ensure that they have the appropriately trained people in place to support their overall business strategies.  This has to be the way forward for the industry so that the UK can produce an automotive sector as strong as any global competitor.

Move your business to a better catchment area

by David Allison, programme director at the Centre for Automotive Retail Management and the Henry Ford College, Loughborough University.

I was reading an article the other day about house prices. House prices and schools to be exact. As we all know, education in this country is one of the few political issues where the majority of people rise up out of political apathy and make their opinions known. And, let's face it, we all have opinions when it comes to education – particularly those of us with children.

So why is this a subject that attracts so much attention? Well in today's environment, we know that the future is both tough and exciting for our children; those who are confident, sure of their abilities, with the right qualifications will prosper. That's not to say that others won't; but it will probably be more difficult for them. Just take a look at house prices in London if you need to be convinced of the lengths to which parents will go. House prices in the 'right' catchment areas are going through the roof, so children can go to the 'right' schools. Why? It's natural; we all want the best for our nearest and dearest.

If nothing else then, the UK population is becoming more and more attuned to the importance of education. We all know why it's important; it helps to determine the opportunities that are open to our children and their ability to make the most of those opportunities. We also know that education can be measured – parents making choices for their children rely on league tables and exam results, as well as talking to other parents to make their choice. What's more, once we've made the decision, we keep reviewing it through assessments, where our 7, 11, 13, 15, 16, and 17 year olds have to demonstrate their performance, and through this, prove the quality of the education they've received.

So, with this focus on education – training our youngsters – surely we can, and do, apply the same principles at work. After all, the issues raised above are equally important in the work place. Businesses can only succeed if they employ people who are up to date and who understand the changing world in which they work. It's therefore only natural that a business would ask the same kind of questions that parents do: "What is being taught?", "How hard are they working?", "How good is the school?" and so on. So here are a few questions that organisations might like to ask themselves:

• What have individuals learnt?• What is taught in the training courses you send your people on?• How much of what has been learnt has been applied to improve your business? • How do you know that your training provider is the best that is available?• What impact has it had on your bottom line?

In reality, if you can answer all these questions, you are doing very well. It's been estimated that only 9% of companies make any attempt to assess if their business has changed as a result of training, and only 7% try to assess the financial performance; that's across the UK as a whole, not just the motor industry.

No-one says that it's easy to assess the impact of training; it is difficult. But, if you don't ask the questions, you'll never know the answers. One side effect of asking the questions in the first place is that both trainees and trainers start to take the learning more seriously too. It's sometimes called the "Hawthorne Effect"; when you measure something and focus on it, performance is likely to improve.

The research that we've conducted indicates that management involvement is probably the biggest single factor in making training effective. We consistently see the best business and individual results in organisations where managers play an active role in supporting learners; they talk to learners about their objectives before they attend; they assist in setting up and reviewing the projects that are used to measure both the learner and the teacher; and they support the learner in actively using the learning in the business.

For franchised dealers of course, training has become mandatory in many cases, and not every individual is always supportive of the training requirements imposed on them. I can understand why, and when I'm teaching on programmes there's nothing I hate more than the row of folded arms that says "I don't want to be here, I'm not going to learn anything". I know that for these individuals it's not a barrel of laughs either. Again, we can draw parallels with children going through the school system. It keeps coming back to the way in which parents and others help children through the educational process; providing assistance with both the rough and the smooth.

As parents we want to make the best choices and offer the best support; to help our children learn and use the opportunities open to them. The world of work is no different. Businesses that support individuals to make the most of each learning opportunity and keep striving for the best will equip themselves most effectively for future success.