‘You only cut corners once,’ says Mihai Lazar.
He’s been a technical trainer with Mazda UK for more than seven months and has over a decade of training experience. So when a man of his wisdom says something like that, you take notice and listen.
And when you also realise that Lazar is conducting one of Mazda’s bespoke training sessions for electric vehicles, that sentence takes on even more weight.
On my visit, it’s one of a handful of courses happening concurrently at Mazda’s state-of-the-art training academy in Stewartby, Bedfordshire, and the latest recruit is me.
But why is a brand such as Mazda investing so much in something that’s so behind the scenes? Well, to understand that, you need to take a look under the bonnet of the car industry.
To put it simply, the automotive sector has been battling a huge problem in recent years.
Garages and dealerships are struggling to attract new talent to become technicians, while other businesses are having difficulty keeping hold of experienced workers.
A recent survey of 104 franchised car dealer workshops and independent garages by the Motor Ombudsman found that more than half of them – 52% – have prioritised recruitment in 2024.
So stark is the labour shortage that the IMI – Institute of the Motor Industry – has declared the current vacancy rate to be the highest for 21 years.
This situation, believes the IMI, is only going to grow worse because of an ageing workforce, dissatisfaction regarding salaries and the normalisation of job-hopping since the Covid pandemic.
In the same survey, the Motor Ombudsman revealed that a whopping 50% of businesses couldn’t recruit enough technicians in 2022 to meet demand.
The issue is even more acute when it comes to electric vehicles.
Not just confined to the UK, the shortage of qualified technicians to work on cars fitted with plugs is now a worldwide issue.
Moreover, garage owners are loath to invest in sometimes costly new machinery and put their staff through training, despite the deadly consequences posed by EVs’ high-voltage systems, reported Reuters in September 2023.
The IMI is fast-tracking training courses in the UK to prevent a shortfall of 25,000 qualified ‘TechSafe’ EV technicians by 2032. It’s even rolling them out in China and India as well.
Around 107,000 certified technicians will be needed in the industry by 2030.
It’s an issue that is growing in relevance all the time, and Mazda is one of the car manufacturers taking it very seriously.
Indeed, the Japanese carmaker views the whole concept of providing the finest training courses to dealership staff of paramount importance.
In September 2022, it opened its new ‘Mazda Academy’. It appears unremarkable on a small but smart-looking industrial estate in Stewartby, seven miles south of Bedford and a short drive from the famous Millbrook Proving Ground.
Inside, though, it’s as if you’ve walked into one of Mazda’s latest dealerships.
High-quality furniture, cool lighting and Japanese-style colours and furnishings give off an air of relaxation and professionalism – this is no drab inner-city technical college.
It reflects Mazda’s heritage – a display car from the firm’s classic car collection is always on show in the reception area – as well as the company’s ‘Crafted in Japan’ feeling that you find in its cars’ interiors and its aspirations of becoming a premium carmaker by the end of the decade.
Measuring 11,000 sq ft, it’s a cleverly designed space with offices, soundproofed broadcast rooms for live training delivery, and a large, eight-bay technical training workshop area.
There are the usual ramps and garage paraphernalia, but the tool cabinets aren’t your normal affairs – they have integrated TV screens to transmit live trainer action footage.
Above, classrooms surround a cool-looking refreshment area where delegates eat hand-made sandwiches prepared locally for lunch.
‘We’ve been running technical training since we opened, but now we’re going to offer the full range of courses – in particular, sales and service,’ Mazda UK’s communications, project and strategy manager, Sarah Nie, tells me.
We chat about the programmes on offer, including a 12-week course for salespeople.
And in typical Mazda style, it doesn’t just provide the basics, it’s also a course designed to instil a sense of pride around the brand. Allowing people to be passionate and fired up makes them better sales people – it’s as simple as that.
I’m the latest recruit on Mazda’s Electric Vehicle Level 3 programme – high-voltage training, in other words – and I’m joined by two dealership service advisers.
Mihai is leading the class, and despite me not being technically minded in the slightest, I find it really engaging.
In the classroom, we have open and frank conversations about the EV market and how customers’ expectations are different, along with discussions surrounding the different electrified models there are and how they differ.
It’s then down to work in the workshop. We pull apart a Mazda CX-60 PHEV’s gearbox and learn how to work on the electrical systems of the Mazda MX-30.
It’s totally absorbing and fun – not how I imagined a day learning about high-voltage systems would be.
I leave the two other guys to do their practical part of the day and go away with a whole new understanding of exactly what goes into making dealership staff the best of the best.
With Mihai’s opening words ringing in my ears, I conclude that it’s probably best if I quit while I’m winning.
Pictures by Matt Vosper
This feature appears in the current edition of Car Dealer – issue 191 – along with news, views, reviews, interviews and much more! Read and download it for FREE here!