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Making the auto industry better by degrees - the impact of higher education on the industry

By Professor Jim Saker

It is not often that I get self-indulgent in this AM column but something irritated me a little this month. I was walking past a presentation being made to some sales people by a well known manufacturer. After extolling the virtues of the company and innovations being made in their product range, the speaker then pronounced “you don’t need to be a graduate to be a success, look at Richard Branson, he never went to university, and Steve Jobs dropped out after the  first year. What good is spending three years writing essays!”

     
 
 

Professor Jim Saker is director of the Centre for Automotive Management at Loughborough University’s Business School. He has been involved in the automotive industry for more than 20 years.

 
 

I was left to reflect on the oddness of this statement. Of course people are successful without being graduates and many are unsuccessful despite having a degree. The irony of the situation is that the manufacturer making the comments employs only graduates in management positions.

Perhaps the biggest irony of the situation is that the IMI had just completed the first independent research into the impact of Loughborough’s BSc in Retail Automotive Management on the careers of some of the original cohort. It found that 100% of graduates have directly benefitted in their career as a result of the qualification and would recommend the degree to others.

All the current second-year students interviewed by the IMI found that the opportunity to gain applied work experience and earn a salary, while obtaining a degree, put them ahead of other graduates who have followed the traditional full-time degree route.

The surveying of BSc graduates from earlier years by the IMI has been crucial in tracking the career progression of individuals who elected to undergo management development by a higher education route.

All of those interviewed felt their job opportunities had increased significantly since gaining the degree, with 75% saying that securing at least one of their previous roles had relied on them being a graduate.

Analysing the job levels of all the graduates has shown that 85% are in senior level management with the remaining 15% in positions where there is a clear path for progression.

When we first launched the degrees with Ford, we were pilloried in the press with “Arthur Daley goes to college”-style headlines, but things have changed. A wide range of manufacturers and dealerships now send people on the programmes.

In the past three years, the HGV sector has got involved, with Scania, DAF and MAN sending delegates. However, the most significant change has been the interest from overseas. For the past couple of years, we have been running a programme in Singapore for Wearnes.

The majority of these students were already graduates but wanted a programme specifically tailored to their needs. Significantly, they flew their whole cohort from Singapore to Loughborough to receive their certificates at graduation this year. We have also had a number of students flying in from Dubai and Canada to attend the Master’s programme.

Perhaps the speaker was right – being a graduate may not make you a success. But it definitely helps.



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  • Martin - 05/09/2013 07:19

    I was the first to graduate with a degree in retail automotive management at lough borough and whilst I say it was a brilliant experience with excellent tutors like Jim it has not benefitted me in the slightest. I have even had a couple of employers turn me down because they see me as a threat because I am a graduate. What a strange industry. additionally, unfortunately out of the 22 guinea pigs that started the course with Ford only a couple now still work with that franchise

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  • Paul Cape - paul@phoenixhumancapital.com - 05/09/2013 08:38

    Really interesting article. The dichotomy is interesting as everyone is right - you don't need a degree to get on and if you want a degree to get on you should take one. Education is not an indicator or intelligence or entrepreneurism that really comes down to character. Richard Branson and Steve Jobs were intelligent men with one thing in common - single minded desire and purpose to succeed in whatever they desired. Neither were put off by failure or adversity and neither really cared much what other people thought/think of them. Getting back to our own industry Henry Ford had no degree or not much formal education and yet he revolutionized our own industry beyond recognition. My fear is one that was shared by Henry Ford in that 'you don't make a reputation from what you are going to do' and in our industry we have to much fear - of failure, of what others will think of us, of ridicule and being fired. I welcome whole heartedly the work done at Loughborough, it is invaluable for those that wish to go that route, and for those that don't want to go that way that is also OK. However, not going to college is not an excuse for not learning and developing yourself from what goes on around you or is available to you - approaching life without judgement is so difficult but enlightening and the quickest way to get everyone in an organisation functioning at a higher resonance. Thank you.

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  • Postgrad - 05/09/2013 15:28

    I feel a relevant degree, in particular one covering Automotive Retail in the UK could be a significant benefit, for working in Automotive Retail in the UK. I'm not quite so sure how transferable it would be, although degree subjects are often not relevant to the holders' job role. Ford used to have a policy of graduates only for their field roles. This resulted in rafts of 20 somethings with gelled hair and sharp suits, but with no experience of the industry whatever, being despatched to tell dealers how to run their businesses. Many spent their first year being "trained" by dealer staff, their second year being resonably productive, before focussing on their next career step and moving on the following year. So great for the candidate and perhaps Ford in the longer term, but the benefits are far from clear for the dealers they were supposed to be supporting. Can you imagine a UK automotive employer fying staff anywhere? Most don't train staff unless forced to by manufacturers and many going on routine training don't even get hotel accommodation!

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    • Martin - 05/09/2013 15:39

      @Postgrad - absolutely spot on postgrad. having spent 20 years running ford dealers I have lost count of the number of area managers I have trained after coming straight from uni. It should be mandatory for any manufacturer rep to spend a year in a dealership. Just like our politicians coming straight out of uni into politics and then preaching us on how to run a business

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    • Martin - 05/09/2013 15:39

      @Postgrad - absolutely spot on postgrad. having spent 20 years running ford dealers I have lost count of the number of area managers I have trained after coming straight from uni. It should be mandatory for any manufacturer rep to spend a year in a dealership. Just like our politicians coming straight out of uni into politics and then preaching us on how to run a business

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