One of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie’s competence centres, FHH Academy has a key role to play in training. Director Aurélie Streit talked to FHH Journal about its work.
Aurélie Streit, Culture and Training Manager, FHH: When I joined in 2014, the foundation had already put together a certain number of training programmes. These were, for the most part, tailored to brands’ individual requirements with the idea of developing a certification tool. This became the starting point for a more global project to set up a training centre that would be part of the FHH’s mission to promote the values and culture of Fine Watchmaking worldwide. The main channel for this culture is the watch itself and the ability, through training, to explain each of its specificities and create long-term interest in fine watches. Having established this, we knew we had to start with boutique sales staff, as they are the customer’s first point of contact. They are the first link in the value chain. From that point on, FHH Academy was in the starting blocks.
Around five years ago, watch retail entered a new phase as brands began to open their own points of sale. As rollout of these stores has increased, a clearly identified need has emerged for staff who are sufficiently well trained to converse intelligently with customers who themselves have an expert understanding of watches. Multi-brand retailers, at least in Europe, tend to be family businesses with a strong service culture that employ their own watchmakers for repairs. Obviously they didn’t correspond to our main target, whereas the new points of sale that brands were creating from the ground up couldn’t function without qualified sales staff. We developed our training courses first and foremost for them, taking the Gemological Institute of America and what it does in the jewellery sector as a model.
We have a group of 21 instructors who can deliver training in 11 languages just about anywhere in the world.
All our programmes were developed and produced by us, in Geneva, on a neutral basis. What do I mean by that? Whereas initially the foundation tailored training to the particular needs of this or that brand, we wanted to put together a general curriculum, independently of what brands were asking us for. The vast majority of brands have their own training programmes for their products. Our intention was to complement this with something that would be relevant to everyone, and we were pleased to see how quickly our partners came onboard. The second point, and one that was just as essential to the concept, was that training would be given by local instructors worldwide. I’ve personally seen French instructors giving courses in English to Chinese staff who then go back to the boutique and meet Chinese customers. It’s absurd. This is why FHH Academy works only with instructors who speak the same language and share the same culture as their students. We set the ball rolling in Hong Kong, where we already had the right Cantonese-speaking person, rapidly followed by China, Japan, Korea and the United States. We now have a group of 21 instructors who can deliver training in 11 languages just about anywhere in the world. The FHH network proved invaluable in laying these foundations.
Yes, that’s right. The first step was to put together our Watch Advisor programme which lays the groundwork. The aim is for sales staff to master the basics and therefore feel confident serving customers who already know a lot about the watches they’re interested in, while insisting on the value of humility so that they never feel embarrassed about asking for help should they need it. Basically, we teach them that Fine Watchmaking isn’t all about price; it’s about expertise. Once they’ve completed the Advisor class, they can move on to the next level and become a Specialist, then an Expert for staff who complete the third level of training, which we’re currently working on. It takes considerable effort and competencies to develop these courses which – and this is also where their originality lies – lead to certification: at the end of each level, students take a test and, if they pass, are awarded a certificate that is recognised by the profession. This certification process took years of preparation, first to compile the questions and detailed answers, then to validate content and method, and is totally unique in watchmaking. In this respect, the FHH has no equivalent anywhere on the market. The potential is huge: we estimate there are 30,000 sales staff who need training. In addition to this three-tier cursus, we still organise our hugely popular hands-on workshops to take apart then assemble a mechanical movement, and give classes on request, on themes such as complications or customer service.
We aim to further develop our training and information platforms, which are Watch Essentials for the general public and Watch Live for sales staff.
Not only. Since 2016 we’ve been giving our training solutions a wider spectrum, in particular through digital, with the aim of reaching a larger audience. Learning about Fine Watchmaking is like learning a language: classroom teaching has proven benefits, thanks to the instructor’s ability to create links that facilitate knowledge sharing, but this knowledge needs to be added to and cemented over the long term through other means. Our solution to this is Watch Essentials, a free learning app designed for people taking our classes as well as anyone interested in fine timepieces. The app was downloaded 20,000 times during its first year. Now we aim to further develop our training and information platforms, which are Watch Essentials for the general public and Watch Live for sales staff. This latter app has multiple features, including a feed for brands’ social media posts. Currently we have eight partner brands and that number is set to grow. Digital enables us to engage with new generations of users in ways that we can continue to develop and adapt, further enriching the experience. Outside of digital, we’re also reaching younger audiences through partnerships with schools and colleges, such as Hong Kong University and the British Academy of Jewellery in London. Again, there are countless opportunities. As you can see, watch-related training, like training in general, is evolving fast.