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Guest blog: Malcolm Miller, RTS managing director

Staff turnover in the automotive sector is notoriously high – one report in April last year estimated it at 30%, twice the national average. But while dealerships seem prepared to invest in recruitment, in many cases little attention is paid to retention. And this is a shame, writes Malcolm Miller.

That's because many people join because they love a brand; the industry is attracting people who are already engaged, home as it is to some of the most powerful and recognised global brands. If you’re not convinced, then try the ‘what do you do?’ test; next time you meet a sales advisor at a party, ask who they work for and you can bet they’ll reply “Ford/Mercedes-Benz/Jaguar” etc rather than name their local dealership.

So if we accept that new recruits are already engaged, why do dealerships have such a poor retention rate? And why ignore or fail to act on this issue, given the monetary cost of recruitment as well as the harder-to-measure, but equally important, costs of lost management time, poor customer satisfaction and potentially lost sales.

The roots of this high attrition rate run deep, and causes include economic recession, low basic pay and commission schemes. But there are other significant factors that are driving recruits out of the industry and one of these is poor induction – recruits are often thrown in at the deep and told to sink or swim.

Employee engagement is one area examined in the CIPD’s most recent Employee Outlook survey, of autumn 2013. It’s no surprise that the report reveals disengaged employees are much more likely to be looking to move jobs (71%) than engaged employees (9%). But the report goes on to say: “The findings are showing real indications that talent is preparing to be on the move again and that employees in general are feeling more optimistic about the jobs marketplace – a signal which organisations should not take too lightly.” Couple together increased job-seeking intentions and a rather more buoyant jobs market, then dealerships could find their staff leaving in droves.

So let’s go back to that initial love of the brand. The key to staff retention must be to harness and maintain this brand love and loyalty. A relative of mine had a Christmas job at Ralph Lauren, and I teased him about having never met Ralph. Without a blink he said I was right but he had watched a video introduction from him and understood how passionate he was about his brand. It had a positive impact on this young man, and he was proud to say he worked there.

Many motor manufacturers are making great strides in maintaining brand appeal. For example, rts delivers the Mazda Training Academy, which has recently introduced a new courses aimed at getting brand passion into the belly of new staff. New-to-Mazda is a day-long brand immersion course for new dealer staff and is inspired from best practice brand engagement from outside the automotive sector.  The programme has elicited comments from delegates like “Very informative and an inspiring history”, “I have taken a great deal away from this and I am already putting this into practice”, and “I really enjoyed experiencing Mazda.”

Mercedes-Benz is another which sees the value of investment in induction. rts delivers the manufacturer’s new Talent Academy, recruiting and developing the next generation van sales staff. This is not an apprentice or graduate scheme, but is open to people who have the drive, energy and commitment to develop a passion for the brand and their customers. The programme trains and mentors these people, in their dealerships, to become the best customer representatives within the brand.

It seems clear from this that getting the induction right, and investing in induction in the same way that dealerships invest in recruitment, is a valuable tool in the ongoing fight to retain staff.

Author: Malcolm Miller, Managing Director of automotive learning and development agency rts.

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