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'Pumping Gas' Set For Skilled Image

A national project is to be launched to improve the skills of staff at nearly 1,500 BP petrol stations throughout Britain - thanks to The Chamber for Coventry and Warwickshire winning backing of 745,000 from Europe.

It will save the jobs of hundreds of forecourt workers as the industry faces the need for a radical re-think to prevent thousands more petrol stations having to close, particularly important in rural areas.

"The number of petrol stations is down from 21,000 some 30 years ago to 13,000-with a further 20 per cent facing closure," said an industry expert.

"It has been a catastrophic period for the traditional petrol station, as improved efficiency of cars has cut the total amount of petrol sold and the supermarkets have grabbed a great deal of the trade.

"There is a real chance of sales assistants on petrol stations losing their jobs as the industry rationalises"

BP's answer is to become more general retailers, with many petrol stations located in prime positions, but it is a fiercely competitive sector.

The cleanliness of the toilet can be as important as the quality of shop goods or petrol, and requires staff with new qualifications, such as health and safety.

BP began a 'Developing People' training programme for its 400 company-owned sites last year.

They now want to extend that to their 1,100 franchised or dealer owned petrol stations, which will take the numbers to be trained to over 9,000 people.

Without funds from the European Social Fund the whole project would not have been possible.

The Chamber has high hopes of winning a further 900,000 to extend the programme to the end of next year, taking the number trained to 3,000.

"They will get the chance to gain NVQs to Level 2 or 3 in retailing. Hundreds of owner sites have never had any training programme," said Ajay Desai, who is special projects and funding co-ordinator for the Chamber of Commerce, Training and Enterprise.

"Most forecourt workers only hold their jobs because of years of experience, and are badly placed to demonstrate that they can fit into the demands of a new era.

"The job has a turnover of more than 70 per cent, and has never, until now, been considered a career. But today there is a lot more to 'pumping gas', as the Americans say.

"In fact the petrol pump attendant has almost disappeared. The forecourt worker of the future must be full qualified as part of the retailing scene-with additional responsibility for high standards of safety and service."

He added:

"The future is bleak for the petrol-only site with a few sweets and cigarettes, most of which have to rely less and less on petrol sales.

"But we need to move quickly to preserve thousands of jobs. To do that they need to be skilled in not just merchandising but stock handling and control, as well as specialist food handling and storage and customer care skills.

"The irony is that you have to be over 18 to serve petrol, which means that most forecourt workers do not qualify for the training programmes for young people.

"Yet, as we are constantly saying, you cannot survive in this competitive world without properly skilled people."

The training will be overseen by Intec Business Colleges and JHP Training, and the total cost of the programme to the end of 1999 will reach around 2-million.

So far three-quarters of BP forecourt staff have eagerly seized the chance to gain qualifications. Of the 300 who have already gained an NVQ Level 2, ten per cent have moved on to a Level 3-and the prospects of a proper career.

The project will also provide experience in how to handle individual learning accounts across the supply chain, which the government wants to see in place for all employees by the end of the century.

MORE INFORMATION:  Barry Lloyd-Jones   01203 654260

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CWN / Business / The Chamber / 03 Mar 1999

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