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The Big Picture: Sillars can save skills body

After months of debate, discussion and deliberation, the Government gave the Institute of the Motor Industry the green light to merge with Automotive Skills.

It was an inevitable decision; no-one is better equipped than IMI chief executive Sarah Sillars to haul the flagging sector skills council out of the mire and into relevancy.

It was, in fact, Automotive Skills board member Sue Brownson who recommended to Alan Johnson, then Secretary of State at the Department of Education and Skills, that Sillars was given the job nine months ago when Patricia Richards was elbowed out.

At that point the organisation was overspending and had overestimated the level of funding it was due to get from the Government. It was also dragged through the mud by former director James Munroe, who was jailed this year for fraud.

The motor retail industry did a fantastic job in securing a sector skills council three years ago – only 25 were set up across all industry sectors. But despite a high-profile board, with luminaries like Inchcape chairman Peter Johnson, AA chairman Sir Trevor Chinn and BMW MD Jim O’Donnell, Automotive Skills has failed to have much success in either of its core objectives: to attract new recruits and raise skills levels.

Automotive Skills needs to spend more time raising awareness of motor retail with schools and colleges; it should help employers to have a presence at university career fairs; it should be more proactive in speaking to dealers about their needs and its solutions.

If anyone can knock Automotive Skills into shape it’s Sillars – she’s hard-working, single-minded, no-nonsense and intelligent and, by her own admission, will “lunch for England” to win influence with senior industry figures.

She’s already done the same for the IMI during her six-year tenure, although she will have less autonomy at Automotive Skills.

Everyone should hope she succeeds. The industry urgently needs to attract new recruits and it certainly needs to raise skills levels. If Automotive Skills and Sillars can deliver this, everyone will benefit.

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