Why Lookers refuses to let COVID-19 stop apprenticeship take-up


The news can seem full of negativity at the moment, but there are glimmers of hope. Apprenticeships remain a core part of the industry, which is why Lookers is aiming to recruit 185 into its business

The world has been thrown into a state of flux in 2020 thanks to the pandemic. And while it remains a challenging time, companies are determined to make sure they’re ready for the future. Apprenticeships are an incredibly important part of that preparation.

Dealer group Lookers is aiming to take on 185 apprentices, its biggest ever single intake, despite delays caused by COVID-19.

Since the start of the apprenticeship levy three years ago, Lookers has brought in 700 apprentices, including some internal moves within departments such as accounts, management administration and customer service.

The latest recruitment drive is aimed purely at the aftersales side of Lookers’ business and is split into four roles; service technicians, service advisor, body repairer and parts advisor.

MotorPro sat down for an exclusive chat with Lookers’ Group Qualifications Manager Matt Clay: “The core of those are all service technicians; we've got about 120 positions to fill,” he says.

The apprenticeships are needed because of the growing shortfall in the availability of trained technicians.

“It makes sense to grow our own talent rather than go out and try and find it,” says Clay. “The introduction of the apprenticeship levy back in 2017 was a massive catalyst for the programme. It gave us a budget to be able to go out and really start to look at this from a more strategic perspective.”

Lookers calculates how many apprenticeships it needs by working back from targets and projections for three years down the line, internally the firm calls this a “bespoke capacity calculator”. As well as the number needed, it also looks at attrition rates and manufacturer recruitment targets.

Had it not been for delays caused by the pandemic, Lookers would now be in a position to give a judgement on the success of the scheme, this has now been pushed back to next year.

However, Clay believes that on current evidence it’s working well: “The core goal is whether we're addressing what we set out to achieve. In terms of where we are with retention, our rate for apprentices is far better than it is for qualified technicians, so arguably that's a measure of success. Importantly, the nature of apprenticeships means we are investing money into them, so, are we getting back our investment in terms of return on investment? Well, we know for every pound that we invest into apprentices, they return six pounds over the programme,” he says.

How to find the best talent

In order to find applicants for the apprenticeships, Lookers uses a mix of social media, press engagement, and works with a number of national recruitment schemes including the NFDA’s Drive My Career and manufacturer-agreed recruitment services.

In the week following the announcement about the new apprenticeships, Lookers had already seen more than 110 applications and had 30 interviews booked.

“We're looking to start them in January. There's two reasons for that. One is this was meant to be the intake for 2020, but timeframes have moved back a little bit, but we want to stick to one intake a year and it could become a little bit close to the intake later on in 2021.”

“Second, the government announced a raft of support for employees this year to encourage and stimulate apprenticeship applications, and that support runs out at the end of January. So, we're kind of keen to maximise that,” says Clay.

“It’s a testament to the success of our investment in new talent for both Lookers and our apprentices that we’ve been able to offer an increased number of roles this year. Not only do our apprenticeships enable us to help meet the future demands of our customers, we have also encouraged more young, talented women to join the business through this route,” he adds.

“We are proud to have led the development of an industry-wide Female Apprenticeship Network to help inspire the next generation of female leaders in the automotive industry. Encouraging greater diversity in our next generation of talent is a priority for Lookers.”

So, while times may feel tough at present there are shoots of recovery, with apprenticeships at the very centre.

Keen to see how an apprenticeship could be the route into the industry for you, head to the IMI’s dedicated apprenticeships pages for all the information and advice you need.