Licence to service

Is licensing necessary in the garage industry or do workshop schemes suffice?

Published:  10 March, 2014

The garage industry has taken a beating recently, with claims that the profession is rife with cowboys who will take their customers for a ride, charging for work that is not needed and completing some jobs to a dangerous sub-standard degree.

Of course, not everyone sees the independent garage like this. Yet one bad experience can turn a customer away to a franchised dealer for life. There is nothing to stop anyone setting up a business repairing cars, even if they do not know the first thing about servicing. Consumers put a lot of trust in the person fixing their faults and sometimes this is misplaced.

It is the work of the few that affects the many and so the negative stereotype of the garage industry remains. There are many efforts underway to push this back, bring customers back to the independent workshops and show that for every back-street Charlie, there are 50 or more professional mechanic businesses built on an understanding of all kinds of vehicle. But what steps are required to pacify the customer and earn their trust before they walk through the door?

Garage schemes are a good idea in this respect. Hanging a sign above your door that states you belong to one gives the customer the impression that you have been vetted and are up to a standard that is worthy of their business. Yet some schemes, while having high criteria for entry, are simply memberships, not officially regulated programs. Another problem is that while the garage may meet the criteria, the technicians within may be clueless about certain aspects of the vehicles they are working on.

The IMI already runs a scheme called the Professional Register, which has details of ATA accredited and IMI member technicians, the individuals themselves, rather than the businesses they represent. However this too brings a problem, should customers ask for the only ATA accredited technician in a garage, others who are not on the register will have no work to do.

Steve Nash, President of the IMI, states: "The professional register is a publicly searchable register of qualified people. All the things we are doing whether it's ATA, AMA or accredited manufacturer courses get people onto the register. We have in excess of 40,000 people on there already.

"We are not looking to compete with Good Garage Scheme or Motor Codes, they have their own place. One of the key things however is the public does not know the difference between someone who set up yesterday to service cars and someone who has had 25 years of solid training and experience. You wouldn't have that situation when it comes to gas repairs, everyone knows there are standards in these industries. We are aiming for the same thing and it is widely supported. We are keen to work with the different codes, such as the IGA and the Trust My Garage scheme, to help add value.

"We represent all of the people who work in the industry and we want to promote that professionalism. In the goodness of time it would make sense in time that a criteria for joining garage schemes is that a certain number of people in the business are on the Professional Register. The principle thing for us is the individual, these are the guys working on the cars to start with. There is a huge amount of money spent in the industry on training alone and the technicians deserve to be recognised for this.

Some schemes work well with the professional register and a number of them require technicians to be trained by the company running it. Bosch offer their car service scheme with the hook that technicians can be trained in the latest service and diagnostic techniques. These schemes can help the business and aid the customer with the backing of a professional company.

Business Manager at MDS Accident Repair Centre, a member of Bosch Car Service, Barrie Dudey, has overseen the full transition of the garage with the scheme and comments: "Over the last 12 months, we have definitely seen an improvement in the turnover and we feel that with continual marketing support from the Bosch Car Service team, this will exceed our expectations. Joining the Bosch Car Service network has allowed us to take the business forward and has provided us with opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable."

Anndi Sheppard, Marketing Manager of the Good Garage Scheme, adds: "Workshop schemes do offer benefits, as they allow the consumer to find a garage that has been checked with criteria in place. Garages have to abide by a code of conduct and this is checked to ensure they are and remain up to a high standard. The smaller independents are able to trade under their own name but highlight their membership of a scheme, while customer complaints, if there are any, are able to be dealt with through a team of professional people, who can work with the garage that is subject.

"For the Good Garage Scheme itself, there is a 50-point checklist which acts as a guarantee, the customer can understand what has been checked and can come back if there is a problem with a 'ticked off' area. Customer feedback on the website also offers recommendations for good work and the code of conduct is available to customers as well. It provides security to the driver and is down to us to ensure that members are operating to the best standards."

The Automotive Technician Accreditation (ATA) is a national accreditation scheme governed by the IMI, which tests the competence of individuals working in the retail motor industry. The assessments measure an individual's competence against a set of key industry skills, providing proof of their knowledge, ability and desire to work to a high standard.

To become ATA registered, a technician must pass a series of comprehensive knowledge and practical assessments. To ensure the individual keeps up to date with the latest advances in automotive technology, they are required to undertake a reaccreditation every three years. This allows members of the public to be confident in their technician's ability.

The accreditations show the public that the technician and the business that employs them are committed to maintaining high-standards of vehicle repair, with high levels of technical expertise and professional standards. The ATA also gives the public something to look for when using a garage for vehicle repairs and offers a reassurance that the person working on the vehicle is a competent professional.

ATA accredited individuals have to sign an ethical code of conduct and are issued with photo identity cards to prove their credentials to anyone who asks. In addition, they are added to the IMI's Professional Register, allowing the public to search and find an accredited technician in their area.

ATA covers areas such as air conditioning, cosmetic repair, electric vehicles, fast-fit, parts, light vehicle maintenance and repair and panel repairs. In total there are 16 disciplines within the ATA scheme, each with different career levels from Service Maintenance & Parts Advisor through to Senior Customer Service, Diagnostic and Master Technician.

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