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The future of training in automotive businesses – curriculum or consultation?

Mention the word ‘curriculum’ and – unless it is a seriously long time since you left school – you’re likely to remember a timetable, with lesson after lesson; maths, followed by English, followed by science and (if you’re lucky) PE last thing on Friday.

Now think of the word ‘consultation’. The good old thesaurus offers alternatives like ‘debate’, ‘discussion’ and ‘negotiation’.

Put next to each other then, and one word – curriculum – looks like a dogmatic, “you must do this” style of learning; on the other hand consultation suggests some wriggle room – maybe even the chance to opt out?

Are they really polar opposites, or is there room for both when it comes to learning and development within automotive businesses? And while we were once more wedded to curriculum, are we now journeying towards a more consultative style of training?

I’ve been in L&D now for 18 years, having worked my entire career in the automotive industry. There’s no doubt that the way training is delivered has evolved hugely, and this evolution is being felt at every level, from the large dealerships right down to the independent garage.

When I look back at my early L&D days, this largely entailed hopping on the train to Manchester, car to Plymouth or plane to Belfast, delivering the training with flipcharts, paper and pen, then back home.

The big change, of course, has been digital technology. While training can still be delivered in the classroom, it can also go direct to your phone or your tablet.

The modern approach to learning is blended:

  • If we need to deliver knowledge, such as the specification of a car, we can do so via elearning. And the beauty is, it is always there to refer to afterwards, in a handy forma.
  • If we want retail staff to experience a car that they are being asked to sell - how it drives and the passion behind its concept - we need delegates to attend an event
  • If the learning involved is for soft skills, such as communications or team building, this may well take place in the business with a trainer.

But has this technological evolution put paid to an old-fashioned curriculum, and replaced it with bespoke (possibly ad hoc) learning for the individual? And if it hasn’t yet, is this the direction it is going in. I’d answer both those questions with a ‘no’.

This isn’t basic upselling. This is looking at your customers’ needs and suggesting extras that may be of genuine interest. It is, in fact, just another way of offering good customer service.

The starting point for any training has always been and still is to carry out a training needs analysis for each person, but their individual learning must fit in with the overall goals and aims of a business, and this is the value of having a curriculum. A curriculum adds structure, oversight and aims to the learning process; the use of digital tools give that process flex, which makes it more consultative.

To go back to the school analogy, instead of a timetable that says ‘Maths 2-3pm Monday’ we now have a timetable (or curriculum) that says ‘Maths – must be done but at your convenience’.

Some learning may be compulsory, some may be optional; some may be delivered in the classroom, some may be delivered within the business; some may be swatted up on the commute into work via podcast.

While the learning methods have changed the aim is still the same: deliver learning and development to staff within the businesses – whether that’s a larger retailer or a small used car lot – and not only will the business thrive but so will the team.

Top tips for drawing up a training plan Have a clear vision

Identify and understand fully what needs to change in the business, training for the sake of training is pointless and will lead to disengagement and apathy amongst the learning audience. All training must be for the benefit of the business and the individuals. Clear goals must be set and outcomes identified and shared in order to create and maximise buy-in

Understand where your people are

Ensure you know where the starting point is, create a robust Training Needs Analysis, this will tell you where the gaps are in skills, knowledge and behaviours and allow for a more efficient and targeted approach to development

Be creative

Ensure that the training you develop is engaging, interesting and - importantly – enjoyable; keeping the audience focused throughout the learning journey is vital to the success of any programme. Where possible develop a blended approach that allows learning to happen outside the classroom; technology allows learners to access training through apps and websites so they can learn in their own time and at a pace that suits them.

Measure success

Measuring performance through assessments, observation or basic knowledge tests and then feeding back on progress is a must have. Learners must be able to clearly understand where they are in their development journey in order to better transfer new skills, knowledge or behaviours into good business practice; reward success where possible!

Start again!

Skills, knowledge and behaviours are perishable! You must ensure that the learning and development process is supported by management action in the business. Learning and development should be a constant in any business, large or small, and recognised as a key driver for staff engagement. Don’t let your people down with a lack of investment in this area, prioritise training and reap the rewards!

ABOUT Mark Tasker

Mark is learning and development manager with RTS Group, working with the creative design team and instructional designers to ensure our solutions are of the highest quality to meet our clients’ needs.

Mark has always worked in the automotive sector – in fact his first holiday job was as a cashier at a Shell garage. Mark’s career began in sales, progressing to sales management, then on to dealership management before moving into learning and development. Here he has worked with providers, dealership groups and run his own consultancy.

In his spare time Mark, who describes himself as “energetic” enjoys cycling and “playing the guitar badly”.