In a real coup for the motor industry Chris Humphries, chief executive of the new UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), made the BMW Academy at Wokefield Park the venue for his first employer visit.
Ahead of the commission’s official launch, Humphries learned why Ofsted, the schools inspection body, awarded the facility near Reading its highest possible grade for the provision of training and development.
BMW UK invested £17 million in building the academy and it runs a wide variety of technical and management courses for the 150 BMW, Mini and motorcycle dealer-ships around the UK.
UKCES is charged with advising Government on the strategies and policies needed to increase employment, skills and productivity.
Humphries said: “The falling birth rate is a big challenge for companies.
Competition for young people is going to get tougher and tougher so companies need a good training offer.”
Steve Nash, aftersales director for BMW Group UK, and chairman of the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI), said: “When you offer someone a career rather than just a job they are five times more likely to stay with you.”
As part of the visit, Humphries was given a tour of the state-of-the-art centre and met former apprentices Serena Depradine, Charlie Hill and Irfan Khan.
Depradine (23) recently qualified as a BMW service technician and now works at its Park Lane dealership. She has set herself the ambitious target of becoming a manager within three years.
Khan (22) was the 7,000th technician to achieve the automotive technician accreditation (ATA) standard, while Hill (21) overcame concentration and learning difficulties to complete his apprenticeship and win the academy’s best improver of the year award.
During his visit Humphries announced that the Women & Work initiative will continue for the next three years. Initially a two-year project, it was designed to provide skills training, development and support to enhance the working lives of women.
Humphries told AM: “The motor industry is very aware of its reputation and the biggest challenge is to overcome this reputational issue. Attracting talented young people who care will be most important.” Humphries said the jury is still out on the newly merged Automotive Skills and IMI. “It is relatively new and is finding its feet after a period of difficult change.
"In my previous role I was a strong supporter of the IMI becoming Sector Skills Council (SSC).
"It has the confidence of its industry and I suspect the IMI will become one of the most successful SSCs because of that strong support. We have to let it prove its worth,” he said.
On raising standards and delivering good value for money to the consumer, Humphries identified a clear need to increase skills and to provide greater transparency by investing in quality people and processes.
Referring to the 2010 proposal for compulsory work-force training, Humphries confirmed that his commissioners are looking at it.
#AM_ART_SPLIT# However, he argued that UKCES will provide an independent voice on how the skills system is and is not meeting the needs of UK Plc.
Humphries said: “This system is complex and difficult to find your way through, unnecessarily so.
“The commission is challenged to recommend a major simplification or structural changes that will make a difference.”
Chris Humphries has been chief executive of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) since January 2008.
He was previously chairman of UK Skills, and, in 2006, led the successful UK bid to host the WorldSkills Competitions in London in 2011.
He was a member of the national Skills Strategy Steering Group from 2002 to 2005, and is an active member of the national Adult Learning Committee.
Other high profile positions have included being director general of the City & Guilds of London Institute, the UK’s oldest awarding body for vocational qualifications.