Building accreditation

James Dillon asks if mandatory training is needed

Published:  19 January, 2017

I recently received notification that my Technician Accreditation is due for renewal. Readers may be aware that the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) run a 'scheme' to assess the skills and knowledge of technicians.

The level of the assessment is aligned with the job role that the technician performs. The levels of accreditation for the rather succinctly titled Light Vehicle Maintenance and Repair, that's cars and vans to you and I, range from Service Maintenance Technician (SMT) through Diagnostic Technician (DT) and on to Master Technician (MT).

There are several other routes to accreditation, such as Electric Vehicle (Technician), DAB (Radio Installation Technician), Light Vehicle Inspection (Inspection Technician), Roadside Assistance (Technician).

Many folk in the trade whom I talk with are confused by the wide range of garage schemes. Many of these are aimed at helping the consumer select a quality garage. The good, great, best, better, best garage schemes are run and hosted by trade associations, oil and additive companies, breakdown firms and a plethora of organisations with a vested interest. A standing joke regarding the irony of so-many schemes is that there should be a scheme-scheme; if such a thing existed it would accredit schemes in order, to help garages and technicians know which one of them is worthy of their support.

We should consider the objective of joining a scheme. The motivation to join may be different for a business and for a technician. For a business, the primary driver may be enhanced marketing benefits such as customers sharing service feedback, branding and other positive publicity, codes of conduct, repair plans, trading standards approval and such like, which is likely to help encourage other customers to choose that garage above their peers. For technicians, the motivation to be in an accreditation scheme is likely to hinge around personal development, recognition of their skills, knowledge and experience.

I support the IMI ATA Scheme, joining from the beginning, because it was (and still is) the only process which assesses the capability of the person to complete practical tasks relevant to the technical level at which that person aspires to operate. So, the SMT hinges around the practical aspects of servicing and maintaining a light vehicle, DT focusses on the diagnostic aspects of the role and MT assesses the capability of a technician to carry out high level diagnostics, coaching skills and customer liaison. Many assessment centres can advise potential candidates on the level they are best suited to attempt.

The assessment process will be viewed as great, so long as you pass, but what happens if you fail? Also, perhaps this fear of failure will prevent many from going for it. There is a positive outcome should a technician not pass the assessment; the specific gaps in the technician's skill, knowledge and understanding will be identified and a plan of action to fill any gaps with training can be developed. However, it appears that the many in there are many in the trade who are not keen on training, so this may not be a benefit.

I suppose the thinking behind technician accreditation was that if individual technicians were accredited, this would raise the standard within the industry. Comparisons have been made between technician accreditation and the Part P for domestic electrical work. The construction industry forged ahead with electrical installation safety, installer competence and quality of electrical installation work with the aptly titled Building Regulations, Part P.

From Jan 1st 2005. This was developed to ensure that electrical work in the home was performed to a minimum standard by a competent person. It is interesting to note that this scheme focussed on the benefit of a reduction in injuries and fatalities should a competent person/work scheme be introduced.  Specifically, Electrics (part P) was forecast to reduce the fatalities of 41 people by 7.6, to reduce serious injuries from 2740 by 518 and to reduce the risk of fire in the home from 6325 by 1450. Although figures on the actual difference the scheme has made are sketchy, figures published by the Department for Communities and Local Government state the 4.9 deaths were prevented, there was a 30% reduction in mains wiring incident' and a reduction of 15% in domestic incidents due to faulty electrical equipment. Whether such injury risk benefits exist in a motor industry equivalent scheme remains to be seen, however, there is a renewed focus on a parallel to electrical safety with the advent of electric and hybrid vehicles.

Whilst it is possible to offer vehicle maintenance and repairs to motor vehicles without a single qualification, as is the case now, the industry will continue to suffer from a non-professional reputation. I'm quite sure that we can all cite instances of bodged work and shoddy and dangerous repairs which have been carried out by inept persons. The big question is, are the enough serious health and safety problems caused by this type of activity? And, would technician accreditation improve this? If not, the government is unlikely to support a national scheme.

So, what motivates those who have become accredited to do so? Many technicians achieve accreditation via a training course, if they are a dealer technician for instance, as many of the manufacturer training programs have technician accreditation assessments built in. How many independent technicians volunteer for accreditation and what are the benefits in doing so? Recent changes to the rules relating to MOT Nominated Testers has seen an increase in accreditations and the development of a specific Vehicle Inspection standard. This route provides an unqualified person with the minimum qualification requirement to attend the MOT Testers training course.

Aside from this, a go-ahead technician may choose to develop his skills through training and experience. He can undertake an assessment to verify the new level of competence that he has achieved, and move up the pay scale accordingly. I am happy to be regularly and independently assessed to demonstrate my continued technical competence and that I take the job I do seriously. Would a mandatory accreditation scheme raise the standards within the industry and rid us of the cowboys? I think it would. Will a technician accreditation scheme be mandated? Unfortunately, I don't there is the political will to do so.

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