FROM CAREERDRIVEN: AN INDEPENDENT EDUCATIONAL PUBLISHING MAGAZINE

Access All Areas: Getting into the automotive sector

Want to get into the automotive sector? Want to earn while you learn? Maybe you have experience outside the industry? Or are finishing your degree soon? No problem.

You can easily move over into a variety of roles. The retail motor industry has opportunities for people from all backgrounds, and to help you get your career up to speed, we have the lowdown on what the automotive sector is, and how you can get into it. It really is a dynamic sector that has openings for everyone.

MAPPING IT OUT

It is the retail motor industry that takes over once the vehicle has left the factory gates. It is made up of more than 500,000 employees and 70,000 employers, and has an annual turnover of £130bn.

Pendragon, the largest dealer group, achieved a turnover of more than £3.1bn in 2003/2004. Other key employers are perhaps better known: the Automobile Association, RAC and Kwik-Fit.

We can break down the retail motor industry into six areas. As well as specialists such as vehicle technicians and parts operatives, each area also requires administrators, personnel staff and accounts staff - the people behind the scenes that keep a business ticking over.

* Vehicle sales

Rather than just involving a salesperson with the right patter, 21st-century vehicle sales is a sophisticated business, managed by online stock and customer management systems. Increasingly, the internet is used to reach even more potential buyers. Finance is big business in this industry.

* Vehicle maintenance, repair and fast-fit

Try to imagine how we would manage without technicians to keep our cars on the highways and byways, and you will begin to realise the importance of this sub-sector. The use of electronics and software for fault diagnosis is becoming increasingly commonplace, and even a tyre change may not be a straightforward operation - special tools are needed for run-flat tyres, for example.

* Vehicle body repair and refinishing

Think of this in terms of repairing accident damage: the work involves panel beating to flatten the surface, fitting new parts where appropriate, preparation of the surface and the final repainting. Especially well-suited to those with a creative bent.

* Vehicle parts

Somebody has to be responsible for making sure the workshops in the industry have spare parts to improve and repair vehicles. This is usually the parts operative. Again, very sophisticated computer systems are in place to track the location of parts and enable the smooth distribution and maintenance of stock.

* Roadside assistance and recovery

Can you imagine life without the "knights of the road"? The AA, the RAC and Green Flag are certainly the best-known operators. It takes a lot of technical experience to get into a role on the road, along with excellent customer service skills and the maturity to handle potentially distressing situations. However, operational staff behind the scenes are just as important in getting the motorist out of a sticky situation.

* Vehicle rental and leasing

With a strong customer focus and an eye to the tourist market, rental is the short-term hire of vehicles. Leasing, on the other hand, is concerned with the long-term financing of vehicles, often over a three-year period. Rental usually brings employees into direct contact with the customer, whereas leasing is generally office based.

QUALIFICATIONS AND EXPERIENCE

Apprenticeship programmes exist for most areas of the industry and now 14- to 16-year-olds can get a taste of the motor industry through the Young Apprenticeship programme. We've done a big spread on this important entry route: find out all about it on page 29.

The majority of degree programmes in Higher Education are relevant to motor manufacturing, design and production rather than retail. However, many degrees - in business studies or marketing for example - bring much-needed skills into the industry. Typically, graduates can find themselves working as vehicle sales executives, or bringing their skills to the finance department.

Professional development programmes in retail automotive management and retail automotive technology are being developed with training provider partners and employers, and are due to be launched by 2007. They will contain a substantial element of work-based learning and, on completion, participants will be granted a foundation degree that can be used to progress further to honours degree level.

It's not just about qualifications though. Experience in other industries can be relevant to getting work in the retail motor industry, especially given that much of the work requires skills in ICT, administration and marketing. Sales is a good example: if you have the confidence to sell somebody a house, there's a good chance that, once you know the product, you will be able to sell a car, however expensive it is!

WHERE TO GO NEXT

Automotive Skills has a range of resources that give people young and old an insight into the motor industry and how to get into it. These resources can be accessed or ordered at www.automotiveskills.org.uk/careers. You'll find a course and job search there too. For further details, and other places to look for information, see our listings on page 40.

BIKES, TRUCKS AND AUTOMOBILES

Heavy vehicles often fall off the radar, but where would we be without people to sell, repair and maintain vehicles for the haulage industry? Motorbikes, and scooters in particular, are growing in popularity, as congestion and rising fuel prices force consumers to look beyond their usual mode of transport. It's a great tip to train in, or look for, work with bikes or trucks; it's often better paid, but fewer people think of it.

GET CONNECTED

There are a number of trade associations and awarding bodies supporting the industry who specialise in different areas. Here are some weblinks to get you started.

* Automotive Distribution Federation www.adf.org.uk

* British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association www.bvrla.co.uk

* City & Guilds www.cityandguilds.com

* Edexcel www.edexcel.org.uk

* Institute of the Motor Industry www.motor.org.uk

* Motor Cycle Industry Association www.mcia.co.uk

* Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders www.smmt.co.uk

* Society of Operations Engineers www.soe.org.uk

* Thatcham www.thatcham.org

STILL UNSURE AUTO RETAIL'S FOR YOU?

Well don't just take our word for it. We talked to employees of Fordthorne, an independent dealership in Cardiff that employs 150 people on one site. They've taken on people with all sorts of experiences and routes into the industry. So why not find out more about them?

THE APPRENTICE

Charlene, 20, Sales Administration Supervisor

After trying out different part-time jobs while still at school and completing AS-levels in PE and design technology, Charlene went to an assessment centre organised by ReMIT in Cwmbran, on the advice of her career adviser. Obviously this went well, as she was asked to come for an interview with the parts department manager at Fordthorne, and soon became a trainee stock controller as part of her apprenticeship.

Over time, Charlene has progressed through working as a sales administrator to supervising the sales administration department, a great achievement at such a young age. The company has made sure that she's kept up with her training along the way, sending her to complete courses at Henry Ford College and helping her to gain an NVQ level 2 in business administration.

"The day goes quickly here with so many different customers to deal with; it's never dull! If I could give one piece of advice, it would be to find out where your local dealers are and approach them personally. It makes all the difference, whatever level you're joining at."

THE GRADUATE

Darren, 24, New-Car Sales Executive

Car sales is not often thought of as a graduate option, but more and more retail motor industry employers are taking on young people with degrees. Darren graduated in physical geography and environmental management, and was quite open-minded career-wise. But he knew he liked cars.

He applied to work for Fordthorne after reading an advert in the local newspaper, starting work as a trainee in used-car sales. Since then, he has progressed to become a new-car sales executive, having now been with the business for three years.

"The degree really helps," he says. "It sets you apart from other candidates and, most of all, I've used the skills I developed during the course, even though the subject isn't directly related. Time management and organisation skills are as important here as they were in getting my degree, and the outdoor work I did has really helped with the team aspects here."

THE OUTSIDER

Trista Thorne, 35, Operations Manager

Leaving school with five O-levels, Trista went to college to study hotel management, but quickly discovered it wasn't for her and dropped out after a year. She went on to work in a solicitors' firm as a court clerk before joining the housing industry as a negotiator. In 1998, Trista had her daughter and decided that she needed a new challenge.

In 1999, she joined Fordthorne, who realised the value of her customer handling and negotiation skills, and made her marketing manager in 2001. In August 2006, Trista became operations manager. In the retail motor industry you keep learning, and she is currently in the final year of studying for a BSc in automotive retail management at Loughborough University.

Trista's job is to manage the commercial operation of the dealership across sales and after-sales, with all the departmental managers reporting to her. As you might imagine, there are a huge number of challenges every day, and for Trista those are coupled with life as a single mum!

Her advice? "Don't take 'no' for an answer. Be prepared to work hard and do the not-so-nice things, and the rewards will come."

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