Finding new blood to work in the motorcycle industry is no mean feat, but Suzuki can certainly be seen to be leading the way, and after starting the apprenticeship programme in 2003, has just opened a new bespoke training and apprentice centre in Doncaster.
The new centre, which is both bigger and better equipped than the firm’s previous resource in Nottingham, can host up to 100 apprentices at any one time and caters for students covering the full three-year course on offer from Suzuki to its authorsied dealers.
Suzuki’s Aftersales Training Manager, Richard O’Brien, believes it is key for the future of the industry – “It’s a sad fact that a large proportion of mechanics and technicians in the network are in their forties and fifties, with a lack of young blood coming through. We need the skills and knowledge of the older generation passing down.”
Young people come into the programme in one of two ways. The centre works directly with dealers as well as career agencies and educational authorities, and matches the young apprentices to a dealer looking to invest in their future. They are then taught all the skills and given all the knowledge necessary to work effectively in a Suzuki dealership, be it as a technician, service advisor or parts professional.
“We work very closely with career agencies to promote the programme, and encourage our dealers as much as possible to get involved” O’Brien says.
“We try to make the process as simple as possible for all concerned. We take on apprentices and match them to a dealer who is seeking staff, or if they have a candidate in mind already, we can review and administer the process for the dealer. We have a database of people who wish to work in the industry, so on most occasions can unite a keen potential apprentice with a dealer who has a need.”
The apprentices spend 17 weeks over 36 months in the centre, with training geared around hands-on practical experience and minimal ‘chalk-and-talk’. The rest of the time is spent working with the dealers, who also receive mentor training, to make sure the apprentices continue to learn and develop during their time with them.
Denis Houston, Suzuki’s Aftersales Director, believes that splitting their time between the workplace and the training centre is more beneficial for the apprentices than spending time studying for the same career at colleges.
“As well as developing them as technicians, we feel we help develop them as people, too. Unlike going to college where they live at home, here it’s a more mature and professional environment. It helps make them independent.
“They literally live and breath our way of life when they begin a module onsite. They stay in the accommodation provided, they dress in a Suzuki uniform and they follow the set programme which develops discipline, while providing a taste of a working environment while learning the trade, too.”
The new training centre, whilst providing fantastic facilities for budding technicians, also benefits the existing mechanics, especially those based in the north of the Suzuki dealer network.
One frequent issue Suzuki faced was that Scottish and northern dealers often had to travel down to the base in Milton Keynes, however, with the new facility they can hold training for the regional dealers here, using five dedicated classrooms they have at their disposal.
O’Brien adds, “We believe that learning is an ongoing thing. It doesn’t stop just when you finish your apprenticeship. So we keep teaching and training and they keep learning long after they finish their apprenticeship.”
To find out more or to apply for Suzuki’s Advanced Apprenticeship Programme, click here.