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Want to keep your workers? Give them a clear career path

Katie Saunders

While training and development form a vital part of modern motor retail operations, the sector still suffers from a poor perception among job-seekers and struggles to attract high-calibre applicants.

According to the Institute of the Motor Industry, of the 540,000 students who graduated in 2015, only 240 were employed in the automotive sector, the majority by manufacturers. This is despite  the industry supporting 770,000 jobs, of which about 570,000 are in retail.

At Yorkshire-based JCT600, a clearly defined career path has seen internal appointments for managerial roles increase from about 30% four years ago to 70% today.

HR director Katie Saunders said: “We now view it as a negative thing if we have to appoint a head of business from outside the group, but we rarely need to fill these positions with an external candidate.

“Four years ago, 70% of managerial roles were recruited externally, almost every sales manager, head of business and service manager was an external applicant. Now, 70% of these positions are filled by internal promotions.

“We have achieved that because we are offering development at every level of the business.”

To develop its own people and identify ambitious employees, JCT600 launched its Wired programme four years ago, to prepare non-managerial staff for management positions. This year, the programme received 35 new nominations. Some 20 ‘Wired’ employees received a promotion last year and 22 the year before. Currently, there are about 180 people on the programme, almost 10% of JCT600’s workforce.

Saunders (pictured) said: “Of the current management population, over a third have been brought through the Wired programme.”

 An advanced leadership programme – for those who want to progress further, such as heading up a bigger department, aspire to be a head of business, or simply want to develop their leadership skills – currently has a waiting list.

Saunders is in no doubt that the programmes were a major contributor to its appearance in The Sunday Times ‘Best 100 Companies to Work For’ list at number 84 in 2016, and 57 in 2017.

Stoneacre, which won this year’s AM Award for best training and development programme, aims to grow its current £500 million turnover to £1 billion by 2020.

Philip S Wade, the group’s franchise and development director, said: “We have funding available but what we don’t have is an unlimited supply of trained staff to fulfil the many jobs due to be created during this period of expansion.

“By growing the business, it creates many more jobs and also creates ongoing career path opportunities for the most ambitious of our staff. Our focus for the past five years is to identify why staff would want to leave. We found that if they are paid enough, are happy in their working environment, have a good relationship with the team, are trained well and are appreciated it is only a lack of a satisfactory career path which would cause them to seek alternative employment.”

Stoneacre invested in retention initiatives including continually measuring the competitiveness of its pay plans and its multi-million pound Stoneacre Academy. The Academy is the only dedicated motor trade training centre rated by Ofsted. Apprenticeship appointments have doubled to 120 in three years and retention is 95%, with some having already taken on more senior roles in the business.

Wade said: “We have had far more success in recruiting from within and it is some years since we recruited any management function from outside.”

Graham Hall, HR director at Pentagon Group, focuses on the recruitment stage to ensure the group employs people who match the company’s culture.

He said: “We believe that by appointing the people who share your values, they will stay. We can then map the training programmes to fit both the individual and group objectives.”

Pentagon abolished the annual appraisal about three years ago, replacing it with a regular  ‘pep talk’.

Hall said: “It’s too long to wait a year. An employee’s career is managed through continual improvement, which reflects our core values.

“We think our approach pays off in the long run – of our 1,300 employees, 43% have been with us for five years or more.” debbie kirlew


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