The UK automotive industry has just announced its highest annual registration of new cars since 2007, demonstrating the optimism of car buyers and its critical importance for the UK economy.
Looking behind the scenes, the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) has been supporting men and women selling and repairing vehicles in the motor trade since 1921, and actively promoting ‘professional standards’ in the work place for decades. That includes developing and recognising competence and skills levels to improve business performance, as well as encouraging the motor industry to recruit more women.
“Of course the IMI doesn’t specifically favour one gender over another in the industry,” says Linda Stansfield, the IMI’s Chief Operating Officer (COO), “But it recognises women by regularly providing case studies underlining their achievements and offering them support wherever possible. Personally speaking, I believe people will find their way into jobs based on merit whatever their gender.”
Linda knows from personal experience that offering flexible working hours is one of the key boosts to helping women into the motor industry and enabling them to flourish. “I worked as a trainer in retail for many years, where I saw first-hand the benefits of allowing staff to work part-time. Sixty per cent of the staff at M&S for example were part-timers and only 40% worked full-time. As well as benefitting employees, flexible hours also allow the company to operate more effectively, as it can take on more staff to cover the busier periods, like Christmas. At present, the motor industry is not flexible enough and misses out on attracting the many highly talented women who can do a great job in all areas.”
Linda has been the COO of the Institute of the Motor Industry for 5 years, having worked for Marks & Spencer designing and developing management programmes, followed by some 20 years at Ford, where her work focused on customer handling and satisfaction.
“The IMI is going through a particularly exciting period of change,” says Linda. “A new three year strategy is under way, with the overarching mission being to transform the motor industry by improving and setting standards, enabling a better qualified workforce.”
A new Professional Register
One of the most ground-breaking recent initiatives to revolutionise standards of service in the motor industry is the IMI’s Professional Register, launched in 2012 to the industry and in 2013 to consumers (/. The Register is an industry-wide database that lists the details of automotive professionals who have committed to keeping their skills, knowledge and competence up-to-date through continuing professional development, as well as operating ethical working practices.
“My passion is to professionalise the motor industry so there are no doubts in customers’ minds that they’re getting a good service,” says Linda. “The register is a way of driving up standards across the sector and will provide customers with the confidence that they’re dealing with competent and knowledgeable professionals whether they’re buying a new car, or taking one in for servicing or repairs.”
Suzi Perry, well known as the BBC’s Formula One and motor sport presenter, is the face of the Professional Register’s sign-up campaign. “We were delighted to have Suzi on board,” says Linda. “So far 40,000 automotive professionals have signed up and we’re on target to achieve 100,000 or 20% of the sector by the end of 2016.”
As part of the IMI’s determination to raise standards across the industry, the Institute is also focusing on management and leadership training, providing a jobs platform, and producing ‘return on investment’ studies that measure the business impact.
“Having tools to measure the value and effectiveness of skills and training will show the industry how important these areas are, and how it can benefit from investing in them,” says Linda.
Exciting motor industry careers
The IMI has also launched a valuable website where young people can see the many exciting career opportunities on offer and choose their dream job in the motor trade. AUTOcity is a one-stop-shop for careers information and advice in the retail motor industry including online communities 1st Gear (for 13-16 year old students) and Accelerate (for 16-24 year olds in training roles).
“The dream job section at www.autocity.org.uk/world-of-work gives young people a fun and relevant way into finding the right kind of job for them in the sector,” says Linda. “While our HUBcap and Headlight programmes provide teachers with free resources for students that can be integrated into classroom teaching.”
The IMI also recognises FOXY Founder Steph Savill’s business initiatives to not only inform women about their quality workmanship choices when visiting UK garages but also to remind employers about the bottom line benefits of having female recruits in the boardroom, on car showroom floors, in workshops and as apprentices.
“I am passionate about making sure there are clear career pathways, improving levels of competency and ensuring the sector becomes a safer and more professional environment to benefit customers and employees alike, regardless of gender” says Linda.
Given the IMI’s almost century long history of achievements, we have no doubt its aims will be achieved.