The BMW 'Group Academy UK' training centre was officially opened today (5 May). This brand new, purpose-built training and development facility represents an investment by the BMW Group of GBP17 million.

Based at Verve Venues' Wokefield Park, near Reading, BMW Group Academy UK will provide all technical and non-technical training for the BMW, Miniand motorcycle dealer networks and will also be available to BMW Group's employees throughout the UK.

Incorporating a 32 bay workshop, 22 training rooms and BMW, Mini and motorcycle showrooms to simulate a working dealer environment, the 5,400 square metre two-storey facility also features a dedicated apprentice training area with its own residential accommodation and a separate clubhouse for the current intake of between 160-170 apprentices per year.

Jim O'Donnell, managing director of BMW (UK) Ltd said: "Recruitment and retention of skilled people are critical issues facing the retail automotive sector. In order to meet the growth in BMW and MINI UK sales volumes over the next three years we need to increase the number of people working in our dealerships from 11,000 today to 12,500 by 2010.  By providing what we believe are the best training programmes, in the best facility in the industry in the UK, we are confident that we will address this issue."

UK Skills Minister, Phil Hope, said: "Engineering is one of this country's most important skills sectors and this Academy will make an important contribution to its productivity. This Government's skills strategy aims to make training more employer-led, focusing on the skills industry needs and giving employees a foundation to build their careers.

"Sweeping changes in our recent Further Education White Paper will also help make Colleges more responsive to employers' needs, giving people the training they need in the workplace where it suits them best. By keeping staff motivated and by providing quality training, centres like this will help employees be dedicated to their company and improve this nation's competitiveness."

BMW (UK) Limited has signed a long-term service agreement with Verve Venues (formerly known as Initial Style Conferences), a provider of training and conference centres and a subsidiary of Alternative Hotels Group, to provide its dedicated training facilities.

Tony Dangerfield, Chief Operating Officer at Verve Venues, said: "I am delighted that we have been appointed by BMW UK to provide this new facility. The provision of dedicated residential training facilities, tailored to the needs of leading corporations in the UK, remains the unique speciality of Verve Venues. We welcome BMW to Wokefield Park where they join Xerox and KPMG at the UK's leading venue for corporate learning and employee development."