Is the British Parking Association an Example Others Could Follow?
January, 2006The British Parking Association represents all of the parking industry in the United Kingdom. From its Web site to information in its offices, the BPA is inclusive. If you are in parking, you can be a full and equal member. Recent association presidents, for instance, have come from private parking operations, manufacturing and local government.
According to Jane Hack, the group's director of membership services and company secretary, a major issue in U.K. parking is the fact that members of the industry have no clear career path. There is no way for parking enforcement officers, for instance, to advance in their professional life.
"Certification is very important in the U.K.," said Hack, who has been with the BPA for 13 years. "Employers look at whether or not you have a professional certification in a certain field or a related field if you are to be hired or promoted. Until now, there has been no way for those in parking to have any certification, limited training or growth in the function.
"This causes two problems: First, it limits what a person can do professionally, and second, it places those in parking in a negative light vis-a-vis the public. The BPA realized this and began, a number of years ago, to formalize a professional certification program that would be recognized nationwide, not only as letters after a person's name, but also as a requirement for employment.
"We designed a certification program which will be offered by professional training centers. We also put on courses ourselves. The goal is to make them available to as many people as possible. This will increase our pool of potential trained employees and enable the parking marketplace to select the very best.
"We started with parking attendants [enforcement officers], as they are among the most visible of the profession and usually the most abused. We are working with the government to set forth requirements that state that before becoming a [traffic] warden (enforcement officer), you must be certified. In the past, some firms simply hired wardens and put them on the street, often with little understanding of the regulations."
It was not easy for the BPA to get employers and local governments to agree on a standard for bidding out parking services.
"We were many months in negotiations, but we succeeded," Hack said. "Now, when firms vie for contracts, the playing field is level. A standard BPA form of contract is available, and this means that all parties know going in what is going to happen. Our contracts are a partnership between the operator and the local authority, aimed at providing a fair distribution of risk and reward."
The BPA also spends a lot of energy working with the local police in a program -- Safer Parking Scheme -- that rates parking facilities on their safety and security. Garages are assessed by the police and parking experts and receive recognition through the ParkMark quality designation as they meet certain requirement levels. "It not only gives recognition, but sets a basic standard to which parking facilities can strive," Hack said.
"There is no question that these and other programs require a lot of energy. We made a major change in our organization a few years ago that enabled us to focus on our core business, if you will."
The BPA entered into an agreement with a professional exhibition organizer to "put on" its annual trade show. "Before this change," she said, "I spent about 60 percent of my time working on Parkex, and so did most of our staff. Now it's down to about 10 percent."
The BPA gets a professionally run show, has few of the worries associated with mounting such an event, and realizes about the same amount of money as it did in the past. "We continued to keep the brand and sponsorship of Parkex, and we hold our annual meetings, dinners and seminars at the event, but we don't have all the worries. Our management contract means we keep control so we ensure that the event reflects our interests and culture.
"We give our members tangible results for their participation," Hack said. "We are more than a magazine or a trade event. We are making parking a profession, from the bottom up. As traffic wardens become more professional, they will gain respect, and so will our industry.
"Parking is one of the major issues in the U.K. We are a small island," Hack said, "and there simply isn't enough space for everyone's needs. We at the BPA see our job as trying to make a difficult situation better. We found that we are doing that through moving the entire industry forward through consistency, training and professional growth for its members."