February 2016 | Philip Chacko

Driven to learning

Jaguar Land Rover's regional training academy in Dubai implants the luxury carmaker's values and appeal in the staff at its dealerships in the Middle East and North Africa region

Imparting learning may not appear to be a natural fit at first sight for Jaguar Land Rover, but there is solid logic in — and plenty of advantage to be gained by — what it has been doing in this field in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

The Jaguar Land Rover training academy in Dubai

The regional training academy that the celebrated luxury car company set up in May 2014 and the manner in which this learning centre has blossomed reveal the commitment and diligence being brought to the task of strengthening JLR’s allure across a geographical spread of considerable attraction to automotive manufacturers.

The academy’s aim is to educate and enlighten the staff at the showrooms of JLR’s dealers about the two standout brands. Located in Dubiotech, Dubai, the facility runs technical and non-technical training programmes for frontline employees at the company’s dealer partners, including those in sales, after sales and technical roles, as well as staff from the company’s regional office.

The focus, though, is on the people entrusted with the responsibility of conveying to customers what JLR’s exceptional automobiles offer and what they represent. That means those interacting directly with owners and potential buyers at the 40 dealerships in 18 countries that the company has in the MENA region (a further 24 dealerships are expected to be in place by 2018).

“What we wanted to do was provide quality training in a facility that reflected JLR’s image,” says Daron Scott Lloyd, the 38-year-old manager of the academy. “We wanted to make sure that the training reinforced the customer service and quality aspects that our customers have come to expect.”

The establishment of the centre is a step up for JLR on the training front with its MENA operations. The company had been running training programmes for dealership and regional office staff in the region for a number of years, but the academy, given its infrastructure and instructors, is of a superior order.

The model — and benchmark — for the custom-made facility is JLR’s £650,000 Education Business Partnership Centre near Wolverhampton in the United Kingdom. The Dubai institution may not be as large or as comprehensive with its training programmes as its British counterpart, but it does not suffer by comparison.

The academy has a teaching-staff strength of 11; is targeted at managers, sales consultants and service personnel; and has a fully equipped workshop training area and a replica of the typical showroom and service area at dealerships. It has thus far conducted nearly 800 courses, benefitting some 5,500 people in 2014-15, and that figure is expected to rise to 6,700 in the current year.

Gaining speed
Recruitment, training and recognition are the three pillars of the centre’s efforts. The overall objective is to set a common ground for establishing a consistent, professional and brand-specific training programme that can — and this is crucial — be measured. It means a single standard and a single level of worldwide consistency that supports JLR’s ‘customer first’ strategy.

The academy boasts of a purpose-built workshop with floor space to accommodate four training vehicles. It has a showroom that recreates the environment at dealerships, with a sales reception, sales areas, service reception and customer lounge. There are, additionally, five training rooms and other facilities, including a cafeteria and prayer room.

The training is focused on job roles, with a range of specialised programmes for retail sales, dealer corporate sales and used-car sales. There are courses on ‘sales core process’, brand technologies and product knowledge. For after-sales dealer staff, there are learning modules for dealer service experience, service and parts performance, and warranty best practices.

“To ensure we get value for money and to keep costs as low as possible, we have housed this in a single facility rather than have it spread across the region,” says Mr Lloyd. “Critically, we have made certain that the quality and process of training is at a high level at all times.”

A proud moment: Jaguar Land Rover staff at the launch of the academy

The academy has been functioning better than expected in the time it has been up and running, and the demand for training is increasing as the MENA region grows. Technical training is at 100 percent utilisation and the non-technical component at 85 percent.

“We have had numerous comments regarding the quality and feel of the facility, from participants as well as visitors, and that has helped build up JLR’s image as a premium brand,” adds Mr Lloyd. “It helps that the academy has an atmosphere in which people can learn and develop.”

There are multiple sessions within each of the training categories. Every job role is made clear and the ‘learner journey’ — and the time required to complete it — is defined accordingly. “This is only the first part of the training process,” says Mr Lloyd. “The participants go back to the dealerships and there they are coached and guided by their managements to improve further.”

After every training course, feedback is generated on the competency of the trainees. This decides whether they are ready to move forward or whether they stay at the academy for more training. “We are in the process of rolling out an accreditation programme for all staff levels, which will enable us to measure their quality and take appropriate follow-up action,” explains Mr Lloyd.

The instructors at the centre come through the trainer-accreditation programme that JLR conducts globally. These instructors have industry and teaching knowledge and they learn different methods of pedagogy by way of a four-stage course of four days each run over 12 to 24 months.

Tackling road blocks
The cost of setting up the centre has been borne by JLR and the dealerships and the training costs are also shared. “Training is a partnership involving us and our retailers,” says Mr Lloyd. “In the days ahead, the costs will naturally come on the retailers, who are the biggest beneficiaries of the academy.”

Mr Lloyd reckons the Dubai centre is just as good at what it does as JLR’s Wolverhampton setup. “We are smaller and, hence, have a much more personal relationship with the participants who attend the training,” he says.

Getting the academy into cruise control has not been without challenges. There is the problem of obtaining visas (to come to Dubai) for people from some nationalities. In such circumstances the training is conducted away from the facility, which makes the quality and standard of learning difficult to control.

There is also the challenge of distance. The MENA region comprises an enormous extent of land. A flight from Morocco to Dubai, for instance, can take up to eight hours. “It is expensive and time consuming for dealerships to send people to the academy for every training course,” adds Mr Lloyd. “We will, as North Africa develops, have to look at placing a mini hub there to reduce costs and time away from business.”

There is space within the centre’s training programmes for JLR’s own people, too. “We encourage our staff to attend the courses so that they can better understand the training and development we do with our retailers,” says Mr Lloyd, “but we concentrate on the people from our dealers.”

That kind of focused attention led the company to institute, in September 2015, a regional competition to find the JLR ‘technician of the year’. “This is a celebration of our technicians in the MENA Region,” says Mr Lloyd. “It is not just to find the best technicians but also to show the importance with which we regard them.”

The academy coming up in Dubai is another statement of intent by JLR about what the MENA region means to the company, following up as it does on the launch of an ‘engineering vehicle testing centre’ in Dubai in May 2013. “These investments show our long-term belief in the region,” affirms Mr Lloyd, “and they help us understand the people here from a cultural perspective.”