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You can't do better than be a learner;FE Focus

In our second look at new inroads into training by employers, Raymond Ross checks out Kwik-Fit

A new slogan may well be about to emanate from the Kwik-Fit Training Academy in Uddingston - "You Can't Learn Quicker than a Kwik-Fit Learner".

At the company's open learning centre, which introduces employees to the benefits of "managing your own career", learners are told that interactive technology reduces learning time by up to half, and that four times as many people master a subject through computer-based training as by traditional classroom methods.

With only eight full-time instructors, this multimedia based system provides on-line training in the workplace at Kwik-Fit Insurance Services HQ, the latest extension to the burgeoning car component empire run by Sir Tom Farmer. The intention is that learning becomes part of the working day.

The training academy is basically a development base for employees of Kwik-Fit Insurance Services. But it is also used by other Kwik-Fit group companies and is open to a number of community groups in Lanarkshire.

"This kind of technology measures individuals' activity so they can take charge of their own development," Ron Hewitt, managing director of Kwik-Fit Insurance Services, states. "It's about ownership and maturity and it's about support rather than the big stick."

Built on to the Kwik-Fit call centre which employs 1,300 people handling more than 10 million calls a year, the pound;600,000 learning centre opened last February and can train up to 200 people at a time.

"Our aim is to have the best people in the industry and that is why we invested in the country's first workplace training academy," Sir Tom Farmer, chairman and chief executive, declares.

Martin Houston, the human resources director, says call centres have a "notorious" staff turnover because of the sheer growth in opportunities as one of the country's fastest growing industries, and because of "burn-out".

"We focus on personal development," Mr Houston says. "The academy is company specific and is designed to support employees throughout their career development. It is not just about telephone skills. It is also about adding value to customer relations. Interactive skills are essential to the business as a whole."

Courses on offer include Internet Explorer (an introduction to surfing the net), communication skills and managerial skills such as the principles of project management, team leadership and interviewing. There are courses on desktop computing, customer care and information technology.

"If it is an identified business need, then the training is done in company time," Mr Houston says. "If it is not directly job related then employees can train in their own time. For example, if someone wants to learn management skills with an eye to their future development, they are encouraged to make use of the resources before or after their work."

The academy has been set up in partnership with Motherwell College, which approves the training. But Kwik-Fit hopes its academy will be independently registered with the Scottish Qualifications Authority by the end of February, offering its own professional qualifications in insurance and finance.

"There is a huge pool of linguistically very fluent people in North Lanarkshire but no tradition of call centre skills," Mr Hewitt says. "So the training academy began as a response to this and we hope, nearly a year on now that it can develop independently."

Mr Houston agrees that the centre could offer services to other companies once it becomes an accredited SQA centre, but argues that Kwik-Fit's own requirements and its community involvement (groups from Easterhouse, for example, come to gain experience of a working environment and use gym facilities) is satisfying Kwik-Fit aspirations for the moment.

Even employees who have been through FE, Mr Houston argues, would have to be retrained at the academy. "This is a cultural as well as a technical and commercial concern. We need control. It is not that the quality of college training isn't right. It's that we need to pass on our own particular customer care knowledge to new employees. That is inevitable."

The first competence the academy tries to encourage is for individuals to become "target-driven". This should spread to include resilience, self-beliefenergy, team building and technical skills, leading to the Kwik-Fit ideal of "customer delight".

Competencies are assessed quarterly with an annual career development review, while the centre is also used to train employees in new products. New product launches currently being tackled include the company's breakdown cover for Europe and its unique MOT insurance policy.

In their own time employees can also use the centre to bone up on foreign languages and there is a health awareness programme including classes to broaden knowledge and understanding of alcohol and drug issues.

Like the proverbial Kwik-Fit fitters themselves, Sir Tom's expanding business empire is based on small teams working under group leadership.

"The quality of each and every team is crucial," Mr Hewitt states, "and the training academy is designed to support and develop teamwork and leadership. We expect to get added value from this."

A profit in their own country.

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