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John Clark Motor Group investment in IT Modern Apprenticeships

How forward-thinking John Clark Motor Group works with Elite Training to secure the future with modern apprenticeships in IT

 Technological change has always been a factor in the automotive retail sector, but rarely has it been as fast and furious as it is now. Which helps explain why, as well as trying to plug skills gaps across the board, dealers are focusing more than ever on IT recruitment.

The rapid digitalisation of the sector, catalysed by the onset of Covid in 2020, has made IT skills crucial to every aspect of the way cars are designed, built, improved, distributed, sold and consumed.

Far-sighted enterprises such as Scotland’s John Clark Motor Group are meeting this challenge not only with a dedicated, industry-leading IT department but with an ongoing IT apprenticeship scheme which continually feeds fresh talent into the skills pool.

The firm, established 45 years ago by Chairman John Clark, OBE, with a single sports car dealership, has grown into a group of 38 businesses with an annual turnover of more than £914 million, and more than 1,300 colleagues, 127 of whom are apprentices.

It works in tandem with Glasgow-based Elite Training and Consultancy, which supplies the group with carefully-selected IT apprentice candidates whom it also shepherds through the complexities of their apprenticeship journey.

Stewart Herd, Group IT Manager at the John Clark Motor Group, said: “Cars are no longer just cars, but are complex software packages, and IT knowledge is fundamental not only to sales and after-sales but to understanding and appreciating the product.

“Since lockdown, the whole process has migrated online, linking manufacturers’ systems with automated processes and artificial intelligence, which is increasingly being employed in marketing strategies.

“Whereas previously customers would come into the showroom for advice and guidance, now some 80% conduct extensive research online and have a good idea of the car they want and the price they are looking at before coming in to see us.”

The importance of Apprenticeships to the IT department is illustrated by the fact that all the current staff are apprentices or former apprentices who have progressed to positions of substantial responsibility within the Group. Mr Herd said that Elite Training performed the heavy lifting in the often-cumbersome recruitment process, with its own sourcing team which identifies candidates and carries out the interview and pre-selection procedures.

He said: “We started working with them around two years ago and it has been a very positive experience. Elite is fully engaged with the process and provides a good matching service of candidate to role.

“Unlike some training providers, which seem more interested in numbers and ticking boxes, Elite works with the apprentices and tailors each individual’s programme not only around the role to which he or she aspires but also to future career ambitions.

“It means that, from day one, apprentices are given a proper role within the department –setting up systems, performing installations and going on site visits – which links them to the job and provides a valuable support role for the Group.”

Stephen McDade, Operations Manager at Elite Training and Consultancy, said: “Elite Training has been delivering IT solutions for the past 17 years and has a unique suite of in-house resources which allow it to create bespoke solutions for companies and organisations.

“It has been a pleasure to work with the John Clark Motor Group, which is prepared to commit time and resources to modern apprenticeships – a programme which lets people gain an industry-recognised qualification at the same time as they are earning a good wage.

“Unlike other providers, Elite offers a number of added value contributions free of charge, such as Microsoft or cybersecurity certification as well as regular half-day slots with trainers in subjects such as communication skills, all as part of the learning programme.”

Mr Herd added: “There is a huge skills gap in our industry and we have to grow our own talent. We work closely with our partners to ensure that we have a good mix of online learning, practical learning, classroom learning and practical assessments.

“We tailor the content to the current and future needs of our business. Technology is advancing rapidly and we need our apprentices to be fully versed in the very latest technology available.

“Apprentices are the lifeblood of our future business. We are bringing young, fresh talent in and providing the opportunity of a lifelong career.”