Sarah Whiteside-Jones: 'Organisations that invest in apprentices will improve the skills of their employees'

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The Independent Online

The current economic downturn means that the motor industry is experiencing difficulties; despite this, the long-term view for the sector is favourable. It is, after all, a sector that employs more than 800,000 people and, with a £51bn turnover, one that is critical to the health of the UK economy. However, the motor industry of tomorrow will depend on recruiting bright, young people who want a career that they can enjoy and progress within.

According to research by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, employment in the automotive industry is projected to rise by more than 2 per cent over the next decade, creating a further 11,000 new job opportunities. In addition, there'll be a need to replace 214,000 existing workers as they leave the workforce during that time.

The retail motor industry is an exciting, dynamic and interesting sector to work in. There is a need for many different people, including project managers, designers, financial advisers and technicians. Graduates can join in management roles and many young people enter as apprentices. There is something for everyone.

For those currently in the sector, the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) – in its role as the sector skills council and professional association for the automotive retail industry – has outlined a series of measures designed to help during the current economic climate. These are in place to help apprentices, those seeking career progression and employers, making the latter aware of Government funding.

The careers team at the IMI are working with training providers to identify where work placements exist and trying to match these with the most appropriate apprentices. Recent research shows that apprenticeships are a sound investment, bringing significant business benefits. Organisations that continue to invest in apprentices will improve the skills of their employees and gain a competitive edge for when the recession ends.

The Government recently announced that automotive employers will be able to access high-quality skills support and increased funding via the Train to Gain scheme. The IMI is working with training providers and employers to establish how to obtain this funding, in order to ensure that the automotive sector can benefit from skills development that meets its requirements. The IMI can help an employer to identify and discuss training needs, organise specialist training providers and, wherever possible, secure funding. This advice is free.

Steps are also being taken to encourage more women into the motor industry; women make up only 20 per cent of its workforce. The IMI is running the Government's Women and Work initiative, which enables women to develop their skills and progress their careers and earnings potential. Companies can access funding towards the development of female employees – so far over 1,000 companies have done so.

The motor industry also needs good leaders and people who can manage others effectively. Important work is underway with employers and training providers to create a culture in which businesses can see the value of management training, as well as giving them the opportunities to do it in line with their needs. Recent industry forecasts have indicated that by 2017, 50,000 managers will be required in the automotive sector. A growing number of car retailers are now beginning to address this widely overlooked area of staff training. "Management and leadership support has been pretty poor in our sector in the past," says Steve Scofield, head of skills development at the IMI. "However, the pilot for the automotive management accreditation scheme began last October and is a programme that covers the assessment and accreditation of managers and leaders within the automotive sector."

For many people with the right qualifications, the automotive industry offers almost boundless opportunities. You also need to show that you are serious about being successful as well as making the industry a success; with difficult trading conditions and rising customer expectations, employers and customers want the reassurance of dealing with people who are respected for their professional attitude and know what they are talking about.

To find out more about the IMI, visit www.motor.org.uk or call 01992 511521. Visit www.traintogain.gov.uk for more on the Train to Gain scheme

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