Becoming an IAM Observer
By The Training Team
“Observing with IAM is a thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable way to help make our roads safer by coaching and mentoring drivers and riders to be the best that they can be. You'll volunteer to provide these skills through our national group network.” IAM Roadsmart
“One of the best things about being an observer is that encourages me to keep my riding skills at a high standard, and offers me the opportunity to help other bikers to reach the next level of riding and enhance their safety and enjoyment." Anon
What is an Observer?
An Observer is a person who has already passed the Advanced Test and is prepared to help other people prepare for passing the test through what we call observed rides. The Observer advises and assists a rider (known as an Associate) in preparing for the IAM test by following behind and offering advice and support to the rider to improve their riding standard to the level you will need to reach to pass your test.
NAM will welcome you if you want to become an observer and will provide guidance and assistance to ensure your current driving/riding is still up to the IAM Advanced Test Standard. Once confirmed, they will then give you lots of support, encouragement, and guidance to help you become a Local Observer (LO) with the Group.
By becoming a LO, you will learn a lot more, not just about helping other riders reach the standard you have achieved, but through a greater understanding of the principles and application of advanced driving/riding techniques. This will also help you will improve your own standard of driving/riding.
There is another reason to become an observer - the satisfaction of one of 'your' associates passing the IAM Advanced Test and the part you played in that process.
The people who deliver the advanced car and rider training on behalf of the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) are known as observers and not trainers. The reason for this is that Observers are all volunteer members of a local car or motorbike group and, whilst they are highly qualified and experienced in their particular discipline - car or bike (sometimes both), they are not usually qualified as driving or riding instructor in accordance with Driving Standards Agency requirements.
Does this mean that the training isn’t professional?
Not at all. Most of the observers in the local groups are highly experienced bikers. Many hold higher advanced riding qualifications such as the IAM Masters Award and the Rospa Gold award. These are recognised as the highest civilian motorbiking and driving qualifications available. All candidates for training as Observers must demonstrate that they have undertaken training to advance their skills beyond the Advanced Rider test level.
In addition to this all observers undergo a rigorous training process within their local groups before becoming accredited as either Local Observer or National Observer by the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) a respected body appointed by the IAM to oversee the maintenance of standards.
How do I become an Observer with NAM?
To become an Observer involves a whole series of attributes that not everyone possesses. Mainly it centres on commitment and the will to succeed. Good intentions alone will not be enough; in addition to commitment and the will to succeed you will need:
- High standard of riding in all conditions
- Good communications skills
- Ability to adapt to change
- Ability to identify riding faults and suggest how to remedy them
- Current paid-up membership of NAM and IAM
It’s a simple and straightforward process but there are one or two requirements that you must comply with. These relate to your experience and commitment. The NAM Chief Observer would like to know that you are an advanced rider and that you have a certain amount of post qualification experience. Secondly, it is necessary for you to show that you have been keen to develop your skills by undertaking further training - either commercially provided, or by attending some of the training sessions organised by NAM. Perhaps you have demonstrated your interest an commitment by assisting on or even leading monthly ride outs.
Above all potential Observers need to be prepared to make a time commitment to ensure that they are able to offer the training and support to an associate who may be allocated to them and also, all Observers are expected to attend periodic training sessions designed to keep their skill and knowledge at a high level. Full details of the requirements and the application procedure can be found here.
You’ve been accepted as a Trainee Local Observer, what happens next?
You will be allocated to one of the Observer Teams and a team member, who will also be a Local observer assessor, will be identified as your mentor. Your mentor will oversee your training and do everything he or she can to ensure that you enjoy the process and have a rewarding experience. Local Observer training is conducted by the group and once the trainee has reached the required standard stipulated by the IAM and IMI, the qualification is awarded locally after a final endorsement by the Chief Observer.
In practice, the Observer Team Leader, in conjunction with your mentor, will ensure that you receive a combination of role play, hands on observing, classroom training and mentoring so that you can acquire and practice the skills. In addition, there will be an assessment of your own riding.
Very often Trainee Observers meet with a Local Observer and an Associate and accompany them on Observed Rides shadowing at first and then leading the session. This allows candidates to observe the techniques of training and de-briefing which guide to Associate to ‘test ready status’.
How long does the Local Observer training take?
As with many questions surrounding advance riding, the answer to this must begin “it depends”. There are various factors at play. Some candidates have previous training experience and are already familiar with leading training sessions, demonstrating skill and debriefing associates. Other take a little longer to master these importance tools in the Observer tool box. Rest assured, there is no pressure and the training is formulated to be relaxed and supportive and to progress at a pace suited to the trainee. Above all, it should be enjoyable!
Why do people become Observers?
The principle reason has to be in order to improve road safety in the region. However, there are a number of other reasons and one of the most often heard is that being an observer is a strong incentive for a rider to keep his or her skills and knowledge at a high standard. Observers enjoy biking and are delighted to be able to share the skills they posses with others, thereby contributing to improving the safety of the Associate and other road users. You will find that many observer enjoy the camaraderie of being a member of NAM, of the Observer Team and also of that small team which is the Observer and Associate.
It is very rewarding to be able to pass on your advanced riding skills and then to share in the success of the Associate who becomes a full member of IAM and NAM on the occasion the they pass the Advanced Test.
I’ve been a Local Observer for some time, what’s next?
It isn’t necessary to do anything next. Many Observers enjoy the role and continue to work closely with associate, at times making a greater or lesser depending on their ability to commit to an associate. However, if you wish to undergo further training you could consider becoming a National Observer (NO).
In simple terms a NOs are slightly more experienced Observers who undertake further training and use their experience to mentor colleagues. As is said in some parts of the world “same, same but different”.
The NO qualification differs in a significant way from that of the LO in that it includes an external assessment of the candidate carried out by an IAM staff examiner.
As a NO you may be eligible to make an added contribution as a member of the Training Team.Please see here for the full criteria - [LINK?]
What will be expected of me as an Observer?
The biggest commitment expected of you is your time. It is expected that as a minimum all observers spend at least ten hours per year actually observing an Associate. In practice, if you are allocated an Associate you will be most likely to spend more that ten hours with him or her. Most observed rides extend to two or three hours by the time an initial brief and subsequent debrief are varied, usually at a convenient café over coffee. Thin k back to the time you were an Associate and that will give you a very good idea of the both the role of the Observer and the time commitment.
In addition to observing Associates there is a requirement to attend a number of training sessions throughout the year, join in with some team get togethers and assist with the wider NAM training events such as the slow riding and bike skills sessions. All very enjoyable and all offering the opportunity to network with fellow Observers.
Can I try it before I commit?
Please get in touch with a member of the Training Team or the Chief Observer. They will be only too happy to have a chat with you and arrange for you to shadow an observed ride to help you decide if observing is for you.
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Are you an Observer for an IAM group? What advice do you have for any Advanced rider thinking of becoming an Observer? We'd love to hear about your experiences.