Improving customers' trust in the motor industry

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The Independent Online

Vehicle manufacturers are continually pushing the technological envelope, which means that the skills required in the retail automotive environment are now incredibly high, particularly from a technical perspective. Increasingly, the traditional mechanic is far removed from the new breed of diagnostician, akin to a software engineer who can troubleshoot and resolve complex electrical problems when they arise.

The average family saloon has more than 100 computers onboard, operating all the systems. Technology is progressing so quickly that it is possible to imagine a time when steering wheels and pedals are replaced with some form of neural network to allow a vehicle to respond to a driver's brainwaves.

With cars, trucks and motorcycles of ever-higher quality, reliability and performance, a future for the UK retail motor industry depends, fundamentally, on recruitment and the development of individuals who have the talent, aptitude and capability to develop their skills. At the moment the most common route into a technical career is through an apprenticeship. Alternatively, there are many full- or part-time college courses across the UK, or even university degrees in automotive engineering or management.

However, just as important is how the industry is going about improving its credibility with the motoring public following decades of negative stereotypes and poor consumer ratings. For those with qualifications and experience under their belt, an opportunity to highlight professional credentials and integrity can be gained through being a member of the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI), the sector's professional association for more than 88 years as well as recently becoming a Government-licensed Sector Skills Council.

The IMI has over 22,000 members, the majority of whom are based in the UK. Membership is achieved by qualification and applicants are graded according to their qualifications and level of industry experience. An assessment service is also available to those in management roles who do not currently possess a recognised qualification. Those currently working towards a motor vehicle qualification can become affiliated to the IMI and become a member in waiting, upgrading once they have qualified.

Membership benefits include industry-specific recognition and status, access to a national network of member associations, opportunities for continuing your professional development and entry to a members-only section of the IMI website which offers career advice, dedicated legal services, training seminars and recruitment opportunities.

The automotive sector is a major part of the economy, employing some 600,000 people in over 69,000 businesses. The IMI affords a means of recognising those who are committed to performing to the best of their abilities for their employer, the industry and, most importantly, their customers.

Ethical competence is at the heart of everything the IMI does. Its Proud to be Professional campaign is aimed at highlighting the importance of being ethical and working with a sense of pride, in order to improve customers' trust in the industry.

Another arm of the IMI is the accreditation of specific technical disciplines. Launched in 2005, Automotive Technician Accreditation (ATA) is the UK's only voluntary scheme that proves the current competence of technicians. Regulated by the Institute, it has over 11,000 approved technicians on its online register, all of whom carry photocard identification that proves they have been rigorously tested and signed a code of honest conduct. Being recognised by a professional association indicates that you are a professional committed to best practice and continuing professional development, for the good of your customers and the industry as a whole.

Simon Bennett

The writer is PR executive at the IMI (01992 511 521; www.motor.org.uk). More information about the scheme can be found at www.automotivetechnician.org.uk

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