Car salespeople are trading in their old Arfur Daley image with a new NVQ scheme, reports Martin Whittaker
TRAINEE salesman Paul Bruce recalls selling his first car. "You never forget that feeling," he says.
"I had been here two-and-a-half months, learning the whole process. And when you finally make that sale it's indescribable.
"You can then understand why car salesmen do their job - somebody is saying 'Yes! I want to buy from you'."
Paul, 19, has the gift of the gab as well as seemingly boundless enthusiasm, both assets in the increasingly cut-throat world of car sales.
He joined the Lookers car dealers group last April after dropping out of his A-levels.
"Family and friends always told me I could sell ice cream to the Eskimos," he says. "I thought why not give this a try?"
Today's car sales staff are getting qualified. Paul is one of a group of modern apprentices taking a new national vocational qualification in vehicle selling.
The Institute of the Motor Industry has just awarded its first NVQ level 3 in the car trade to cope with a growing skill shortage among UK car dealerships.
Lookers is pioneering the new NVQ among its sales trainees in the North-west, and being monitored by Manchester Training and Enterprise Council.
Lookers training and development manager, Diane Pocock, says the qualification shows the car trade is leaving behind its "wide-boy" image.
"The stereotypical salesperson is an Arthur Daley type, but the public don't want that any more.
"Their perception is a lot more advanced than it used to be. They're very knowledgeable, they have the Internet. Our salesmen need to be much smarter."
Lookers began the NVQ after a survey found its staff didn't feel valued.
Seventeen youngsters startedthe modern apprenticeship last year at car showrooms throughout the North-west.
In the first stages, trainees get a taste of each department. They are then assigned a mentor as they learn the ropes of selling.
The training is designed to give an understanding of how the entire business works, from selling to administration.
"We set them questions, watch them operate and talk to customers," says Diane Pocock.
"But every customer is different and there are so many different ways of doing the job. We can only ever give trainees the framework to operate with."
She believes the qualification has brought more professionalism to the firm's sales force.
"They look right, they sound right, and they know what they're talking about.
They know what impresses, and they're getting all the underlying knowledge."
Trainee Paul Bruce is based at the firm's Rover and MG showroom in Wilmslow, Cheshire.
He and fellow students went through two days of basic training before being thrown in at the deep end.
Now halfway through the apprenticeship, his course has included elements of the motor technician training, health and safety and key skills.
"It's not only geared to car sales, but to running the entire showroom," he says. "Hopefully we're being bred to be future sales managers and general managers.
"You've got to have a wide knowledge of what happens in the service department. At the end of the day, when you've got to get a car out to a customer by a certain time, it helps if you know what the technicians have to do."
He sees himself making a good career in car sales, before becoming general manager. He believes the NVQ is a good first step.
For more information, contact Institute of the Motor Industry: 01992 511521