What are your perceptions of working in the automotive industry? You might think it’s filled with middle-aged men in suits working at your local car dealership. Maybe, you know someone’s son who works as an apprentice mechanic. Perhaps, Top Gear is your reference point. Whatever your preconceptions, how vehicles are manufactured, bought and sold is changing radically as the automotive industry goes through a period of significant disruption. What does that mean for the current workforce? What new career opportunities are opening up for young people considering a career in the industry?
Recently, I spoke with Clare Martin, Group HR Director with the Jardine Motors Group, one of the largest and most successful businesses in the automotive industry. Clare was awarded 2018 winner in the HR category of AutoCar’s Great British Women. She is on a mission to change misconceptions about working in her industry. In particular, she is inspiring change about what women can achieve in the workplace. And she is making a difference. I began by asking her about her personal journey to her current role.
What got you into the automotive industry?
I started my career in VW-Audi in a customer services role and got CIPD qualified there. After 10 years, I then jumped into retail. From a private equity role, I got headhunted back into the motor industry. Things had changed but nowhere near to the scale I thought. Although a surprise, I saw it as a great opportunity!
How have you found it as a woman in your industry?
I’ve always worked in a male-dominated industry, they usually are. However, I’ve not had a problem. Once I received coaching and mentoring in a senior role in my 20s, it really helped me and in helping other women. I’ve found in my career that women can be just as bad, for example, in showing lack of support. Yes, I did take on a male demeanor at the start because I thought that was OK. Then I got leadership development and learned to be myself with more skill.
We have a structured approach to development at Jardine. I reach out to women to ask why they haven’t applied for a promotion especially if they feature on our talent plans. We have to be proactive because some women are still not applying for promotions. You have to tap them on the shoulder. We have a good coaching culture here – the emphasis is on why they can rather than why they can’t.
We have aspirational targets to have more females in management roles. However, I’m a huge believer in not ticking boxes and putting women in management roles to hit a target but because they deserve to be there and are capable of doing the job. I see on too many occasions women doubting themselves as they might not be 100% ready for a promotion. However, our ethos at JMG is they will have 80% of what they need and the other 20% is learning which we can provide. Development plans must be in place because it’s not about not setting people up to fail.
People are incredibly accepting of change here. They embrace the diversity because we can show teams performing better, away from gender. I’ve not had huge battles. One division, in particular, has 6 dealerships and 5 female service managers all in the last year or so. Funnily enough, it’s the Support functions sometimes that are less supportive because of the (lack of) confidence in women doing these jobs.
I’m an Ambassador with Retail Week Be Inspired and meet lots of women in retail looking to progress their careers further. How to influence as a woman is a big topic of discussion. I remember going on a Women Don’t Cry workshop 20 years ago about how to deal with things without crying. Fortunately, things have changed for the better. Emotional intelligence skills have never been more important. This is where I believe women have an advantage because the evidence would suggest that women are more emotionally intelligent.
Also, I talk out of industry a lot. I find that what’s not happening is women being sponsored enough to go forward for promotions. Companies are starting to lose talented females because of this. One of my pieces of advice to companies is that you can invest significant amounts of time and money in developing females but if you don’t proactively support their next career steps and change the culture in a business then you should put your money to better use. Because actions speak louder than attendance at development programmes. Everything starts and stops with culture.
What is it like being an HR professional in your world?
This organisation is serious about the people agenda. My background overlays the commerciality with the people bit. Far too many HR functions are seen as back office “tears and tissues”. Here, I’m part of the Board and involved in business strategy. I’ve stayed very commercial.
What are the people challenges and opportunities in the automotive industry?
Bringer younger talent in. By 2025, 80-85% of our cars will be electric. The model of car ownership is changing. The way you finance a car will be very different in the future. Things like software engineering skills are becoming more important for our technicians due to due in-car technology. We will need more digital talent for how we market to and engage with our customers. How do we upskill existing colleagues? We start the journey now with both in-house programmes and using our manufacturer partners. Our business model will change. The customer journey will be very different.
Staff attrition continues to be an issue. Also, we have developed a glass ceiling in our business in some functions as we don’t lose as many managers to create opportunities for people to step up. However, our mantra is about ensuring we support people to achieve their career goals. Sometimes that might be out of JMG. However, I would rather individuals talk about how we helped them at JMG and they become advocates for our brand.
There’s a liquidity in careers today – 3 years at most. That means a mind-shift and training for our traditional managers. Training in how to be more resilient, being more human at work, and leadership capability for the future. Generally, Glassdoor leave reviews are positive. Any colleague that resigns from our business I personally write to them to say the door is always open should they want to return and on average we get around 10 returners per month. We have a 95% direct hire rate via our website or referrals which is a strength. Our people tell us that they see the values being lived.
How is Jardine nurturing its talent? How are you shaking up automotive industry norms?
Our Jardine Academy is nearly at the end of its second year and has been hugely successful. We’ve been bringing in ex-military, predominantly in technical. There is a lot of untapped potential there. We have apprenticeships and an operational to first-line manager programme, nominated via succession plan (60 people). Also, a Senior Programme called Leaders of the Future with ILM accreditation equivalent to a degree. Our twin focus is on talent and what difference it makes to the business.
We started 3 years ago. Others are doing similar things now. We changed our commission schemes in sales and introduced 5-day working weeks. Some competitors also did this and have gone back because of tough trading conditions. Yet, we’ve deliberately continued to show we mean it.
Disruption is coming from external pressures like Brexit, changing buying habits with fewer visits to dealerships and the growth of online, AI and tech automation, the collapse of diesel and a move to plug-in/hybrid models, diversity and equality challenges. What are the implications for jobs and careers in the automotive industry? Different opportunities?
Different skills and capabilities. For example, we’re piloting a full online car purchasing transaction – customers still want the experience of coming to collect a car. They will become experience centres – people still want the touch and feel of a car. Also, we use virtual reality. We still need people. It’s moving from transactional to creating memorable experiences. We’re retraining people on the customer experience and bringing in experience from retail. Our customer service reviews are outstanding because our people are giving more time to understanding the customer. Although, there is further work to be done post-sales. A lot is about retraining. Recently, we ran an AI workshop – understanding the art of the possible. We still need humans with strong interpersonal skills.
What is your approach to supporting modern workplace learning?
There is an industry target of 30% of women in management roles globally by 2030. At Jardine, we’re at 28%. My ideal is 50/50 by 2030, a stretch target. People gain a lot from learning with other people. A blended approach will continue, like GDPR which was an interactive e-learning model. It’s about how you deploy it. For example, gamification, short and sharp, using their own devices. Technicians rarely go on classroom training courses. We have to keep it fresh for them.
You emphasise internal collaborative working. Tell us more.
We’ve just had our internal survey results. Our best teams have the highest scores with collaborative working. People say, “I work for East London Porsche” rather than “Sales”. Everyone owns the customer and that transposes into customer satisfaction scores. It’s about ‘how do we fix it together?’. Yes, there is competition within the departments, traditionally with sales, but also with recognition programmes. People want to be the best.
Finally, what are your messages for women about careers in the automotive world?
It’s an industry where you can have a very fulfilling career. The customer is changing. There is a need for more of the emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. Don’t ever think you can’t do something. Too often, we have to work harder at it than men to be noticed. So, don’t sit back. You can’t be a victim because it is what it is. Take some responsibility and champion yourself.