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Lookers sets ‘benchmark’

Lookers has launched a new accident repair centre academy that could set the benchmark for apprentice training within the industry. The scheme is a direct response by the dealer group to the industry-wide problem it has faced in the past of recruiting and retaining bodyshop staff.

The aim of the academy is to bring younger people into the trade and to retain them, as well as earmarking future managers. Each apprentice is assigned a mentor within the Lookers repair business, who will provide them with one-to-one training and support throughout their three-year apprenticeship. The company is also hoping these mentors could go on to management roles within the company in the next three to four years.

“We previously had a fragmented approach to training and there was a lack of consistency in the level of training, along with insufficient programme monitoring,” says Jon Edge, group accident repair centre manager.

“It was left to the training provider to provide us with feedback on the progress of candidates and this was often unreliable. We also had no clear development route for those who made it through to the end of their training. We have gone to great lengths to put this programme together and we now believe we have got a succession plan for our staff. We hope that the candidates that have signed up today will be the managers of tomorrow.”

Nineteen apprentices have signed up to the academy, which also includes seven one-week residential courses at the Emtec paint and body repair training centre near Nottingham. Training provider Emtec created a bespoke course especially for the Lookers Academy and has also been involved in the training of the mentors themselves.

At the end of the three-year course, successful candidates will achieve an NVQ.

The company is also offering loyalty bonuses to trainees who qualify and then stick with the group. These could be worth up to £8,000 on completion of a total of seven years continuous service and is part of the group’s aim to retain staff in the long term.

The academy follows on from Lookers involvement in several other training initiatives. It helped develop the Level 3 NVQ Modern Apprenticeship in vehicle selling and was the first motor retailer to adopt the Level 2 NVQ in fast-fit.

Lookers has more than 300 employees in its multi-franchise accident and repair business across 13 sites, with an annual turnover of £14m. Last year it accounted for 21% of the group’s total operating profit.

“Aftersales is probably the most important part of our business and contributes 47% of total profit in the group,” says Fred Maguire, chairman of Lookers.

“Customer satisfaction is what we are about, so it’s important that we have the right people. Trying to get our customers to value us is pointless unless our staff are valued by us. If we can get our people to feel good in their jobs then the customer satisfaction will automatically follow. This is the most exciting business you could be in.

“There is nothing as challenging as the motor industry,” he adds.

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