autotechnician visits Elite Garage Canterbury to find out about this established family business with 16 sites across the South East, to ask how they have coped with recent challenges and how they are preparing for new opportunities with the help of Autotech Training.
Elite Garages, an independent tyre, MOT, car service and forecourt operator, has 16 sites across the South of England, and recently sent a minimum of two technicians from each site, to complete their IMI Level 3 Electric/Hybrid vehicle training with Autotech Training to meet growing demand.
We met up with Josh Whittemore, Training & Development Co- ordinator for Elite Garages, to learn more about their current focus and future training plans…
“I started working for Elite when I was 17. I dropped out of college, spent a year with Elite and then went back to college. I’m now a university student and I also work here full-time. By choice!” says Josh. “I used to be a tyre fitter, I’m aircon and EV trained, and now I’m in the management team. I look after our pricing, and I also train our managers and organise training for the technicians.”
“Elite Garages is a family business and has been open for over 60 years. It all started with my grandparents, with a petrol station in High Wycombe, and then when we started in garages, we opened our second site in Horsham and I think our oldest standing branch is Mannings Heath, which is where I started. That used to be our head office, I would go in there aged five or six and see my dad at work. I’ve always been around cars and it’s slowly grown over time. My sister and I work closely together, she looks after the marketing, HR and related things. I’m training her how to run depots next week in Newport, I’m running that for two weeks because our manager is on holiday.”
What has been your main area of focus?
“Really just trying to get everything up to date and online. That’s kind of been the focus since me and my sister got onboard. Getting everything ready for EV’s and trying to make our online platform a lot easier to use.
“Covid really affected the amount of work coming in, so we furloughed a lot of our staff, we couldn’t get parts – that was a massive struggle – and the MOT extension killed it even more, in terms of what was coming in, and we’re still feeling that now and probably will for quite a few years. It’s a lot quieter for this time of year.
Why did you decide to do EV training now?
“In some of our sites, there’s a lot of people coming in for tyres on hybrid vehicles and they were inquiring about services and we thought it wasn’t right to just tell people, ‘No, we don’t do them’. So, we decided to make a move on it. We had some of our team trained two years ago to be able to service them,
and then we decided to go for the full Level Three so we can replace components, and all of our guys are safe. I did the Level Two with Autotech Training in the September [within its EV training suite at its Milton Keynes headquarters]. I thought they were really professional and that’s when I decided to get our whole team trained by them.”
A division of automotive employment and training solutions provider Autotech Group, Autotech Training, offers Level 2 to Level 4 IMI electric/hybrid vehicle courses either from its EV training suite within its Milton Keynes headquarters, or on the premises of any garage or organisation. Mandla Ndhlovu, Training Delivery Director for Autotech Training arranged for the two-day, IMI Level 3 courses to be carried out within Elite Garage’s headquarters in Partridge Green, Horsham, conducting five sessions of training for six technicians at a time.
“We selected the number of vehicle technicians from each site to receive the EV training, based on the density of EV sales within their local area,” Josh states. “For instance, due to a high number of Tesla sales within Bournemouth, four vehicle technicians from that site were trained.”
“We need to be prepared. Not only to be able to create a new revenue stream and meet customer demand, but to safeguard our employees and equip them with the relevant skills to work safely on these high voltage vehicles.”
How do you plan to attract EV & hybrid work?
“The plan is to spend the next three or so years focussing on services, getting the guys more used to working on them and in about five years we want to be able to replace full batteries. There’s obviously different equipment that you need, EV lifts that raise up… But there isn’t a huge demand for that right now because warranties are so good on electric vehicles. So, unless dealers start contracting that work out, there isn’t a huge need for it at the current time.
“We have some articles that are being written at the moment by my sister and some of our marketing team that are SEO optimized for EVs and we’re thinking about joining some online EV groups, and becoming a member of HEVRA*.” (*The Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Repair Alliance. https://hevra.org.uk).”
Are there other areas in the next few years you will be looking into?
“ADAS is something we want to do but we probably wouldn’t do it at every single depot. A depot like this wouldn’t be able to have a full ADAS set up because you need to be able to extend two meters behind the back of the vehicle. But eventually that is something we do want to do. It’s just a matter of getting all the training and all of the equipment in place, plus making sure it’s worth it.”
A switch to on-site training and a new world of repairs…
“The facility to be able to deliver training on-site is something favoured by many garages now, because their interruption to business is far more dramatic than ours. To send a trainer out to their workshop, using their tools and within their layout, perhaps makes the training a little bit more palatable,” says Colin Gleghorn, Managing Director of Autotech Training. “Most people are nervous about training, they either think they know everything and they try to catch the trainer out (we love people like that on training) or they’re just nervous about being away. They tend to learn more quickly in their own environment.”
Not everyone thinks that Electric Vehicles are the answer, and the infrastructure has some catching up to do when the prices of these vehicles eventually come down, although there seems little doubt that EVs will be part of the solution to future mobility.
“Where we may have in the past had engine repairs and gearbox repairers, they will become battery repairs, performed by battery specialists – this is becoming a business opportunity, Colin states. “At the end of the day, we’re all going to wake up very soon to the fact that you will not get business insurance on a motor vehicle policy if you’ve not got EV training…. And we must have electric vehicle trained technicians. Josh has made that investment – he did the training and now he’s put the rest of his people through it. To protect his good customer service but secondly, to protect him. It’s due diligence. It really is the correct way to run a business.”
For further information on the training offering from Autotech Training, call 01234 240503, or visit www.autotechtraining.co.uk.