22.04.18 Steve Nash

40 years in industry…and counting

I joined the motor industry after graduating in 1977, having piqued my interest with a summer job working as a parts delivery driver, writes Liveryman Steve Nash. I loved the business and being around cars so it was a logical step for me and the start of a career spanning just over 40 year, so far!

After spells with Chrysler and Renault I began what was to be an enduring relationship with the BMW brand by running a BMW dealer operation in Fulham. Joining the manufacturer’s UK subsidiary in 1986, I progressed to a board position 10 years later, which included some time with responsibility for the Rover and Land Rover brands while they were under BMW ownership, as well as being involved with the launch of the MINI brand. I was a non-executive director of the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) for more than 10 years while at BMW, serving a five-year term as chairman and four years as president, before taking on the full-time role of Chief Executive on leaving BMW at the end of 2012.

Something that had been a constant throughout my years at BMW was a total conviction regarding the value of apprenticeships. As a BMW retailer I had recognised the value of home-grown talent and employed as many apprentices as my workshop could take. On joining the manufacturer I was instrumental in getting its own apprentice scheme off the ground to develop the young, talented individuals our business needed. I am delighted this is still going strong and is still one of the industry’s leading schemes 30 years later. Throughout my BMW career I retained a responsibility for training through the BMW UK Group Academy, which reported to me and championed the cause of apprentices and the importance of developing young talent. The move to the IMI made perfect sense in this regard given that, as well as being the automotive industry’s professional association founded in 1920, it is also the industry’s largest and only dedicated automotive awarding organisation – qualifying between 10-12,000 apprentices annually, as well as providing more than 350 internationally recognised, regulated qualifications and an extensive suite of over 20 accreditations.

One of the automotive industry’s great strengths, particularly on the retail side, is that it is a true meritocracy – those with drive and ability can prosper regardless of where they start. Accordingly, a great many of our most senior and successful people began their careers as apprentices. That includes the CEOs of some of the biggest retail PLC – some of whom are also Liverymen.

There has been much in the news about apprenticeships and the government’s reforms – including the introduction of the apprentice levy in April 2017, paid by all organisations with an annual payroll of £3 million or more. The new employer developed apprentice standards are aimed at ensuring all apprenticeships meet similarly high standards; not an issue in automotive but there have formerly been some poor quality schemes in other sectors. They are also intended to engage a greater number of businesses in offering a wider range of apprenticeships, so there is a true alternative to pursuing university education. Levy paying organisations can only reclaim their levy monies through engaging in suitable, qualifying apprentice schemes. Non-levy payers are eligible to reclaim from the government 95% of the cost of training apprentices and the same subsidy applies to levy payers who have spent all of their levy pot but still wish to train additional apprentices.

The path of the reforms hasn’t been entirely smooth and the transition from the old apprentice frameworks to the new standards has created a certain amount of confusion for employers. However, organisations such as the IMI are here to help employers through the processes and I am confident we will see apprenticeships prosper and grow. That’s why I am delighted that the Coachmakers is doing its bit to support a number of selected young people to undertake apprenticeships. I would hope that, in addition, those members of the Livery who are employers themselves will do their best to offer apprentice opportunities to as many young people as possible.

It is of great importance to UK PLC that we have highly educated people going to our universities and undertaking educational courses that will enable them to contribute to the country’s future prosperity. But university isn’t the only option, nor is it the best option for many – especially with the associated costs of student debt. For a great many vocational learning is the answer, providing the opportunity to earn and learn at the same time. This makes sense for them and for the country, leaving them without student debt and becoming productive at a much younger age. If you don’t believe me, just ask some of our esteemed colleagues in the Livery who started their careers this way.