A pioneering scheme involving schools in Nottinghamshire offers pupils an insight into working life in a vehicle workshop. It’s all part of a government campaign to give the curriculum more of a vocational flavour and to help youngsters make an ‘informed’ career choice. Report by Chris Phillips.
At the age of 14, Umair Azam already has his career mapped out. With top grades in maths and English and “reasonable” grades in science, he could probably be contemplating a white collar job when he leaves school.
But Umair became interested in cars through an uncle who owns a garage and wants to qualify as a motor technician. Longer term plans include owning a garage with his 16-year-old brother.
Umair is among 89 pupils at schools in the Nottingham area who are involved in a pioneering scheme to attract more young people into the motor industry. The initiative, a pre-apprenticeship programme, is the result of a partnership between the IMI, training providers EMTEC, Nottinghamshire Learning and Skills Council, and the Djanogly City Academy in Nottingham.
Six schools are taking part in the pilot project, with pupils attending EMTEC’s centre in Nottingham for three hours a week of training over two years. Those completing the course receive a pre-apprenticeship certificate from the IMI – which, as the industry’s leading awarding body, is responsible for verification. Students also have the opportunity to ‘fast track’ onto a full modern apprenticeship at 16.
It’s part of a wider, government-backed campaign to give school classroom subjects more of a vocational flavour to combat skills shortages. Latest studies in the retail motor sector indicate a shortfall of more than 15,000 apprentices.
Next summer, around 5,000 students from 220 schools are expected to sit for a GCSE in engineering, recently introduced on the exam curriculum.
“Skills is moving high up the agenda and for many organisations is now a priority,” said Stephen Lilley, manufacturing sector skills manager at the Learning and Skills Council. “Recruitment is as important as upskilling the existing workforce. We need to recruit a high calibre of applicant rather than just thinking about volume.”
The Nottinghamshire project reflects the government’s determination to overcome prejudices about life on industry’s shopfloors by giving youngsters the opportunity for structured work experience while still at school.
As Jim Nash, head of vocational education at the Djanogly Academy, put it: “Traditionally, young people have gone straight from school into work and that can be a big shock. This scheme gradually acclimatises them to a work environment. It gives them the opportunity to decide whether it’s a career they really want to pursue. And that benefits the employer, too, with higher staff retention, because the students who complete this programme are demonstrating real commitment.”
The academy’s vice principal, Nigel Akers, added: “Students discover that classroom subjects like physics and maths are taught for a purpose, that they have real worth when it comes to learning about how cars function. So they return to the classroom wanting to learn more; it’s no longer a ‘dry’ academic subject.”
Significantly, the Nottinghamshire scheme is helping to combat another ingrained perception – that the repair and servicing of cars is a job for the lads. Of the 89 students, 12 are girls. One of them, 14-year-old Laura Knight, became interested in cars through her father, who “fixed cars in his spare time”. Laura has ambitions to join the army (she belongs to a cadet force) and apply her skills to military vehicles. Of the pre-apprenticeship course, she says: “It’s better than I expected. It’s much more practical than talking about things in the classroom.”
For Toyota, which is providing the vehicles and other learning aids, the schools’ programme represents a further strengthening of ties with Nottingham. The company’s franchised network training centre is based on the campus of Nottingham Trent University.
Of the pre-apprenticeship scheme, Toyota’s regional training manager Gary Harlock said: “It provides the opportunity to show what today’s motor industry is like and, more importantly, it provides a fantastic opportunity for the youngsters taking part to make an informed career choice when leaving school. I hope that other major employers follow suit with similar projects.”
Robert Goodwin, managing director of EMTEC, said the programme had value irrespective of whether trainees chose to make the motor industry their career. “It provides them with literacy and numeracy skills which will be relevant to other jobs. It’s all part of providing stronger links between schools and industry,” he added.
Commented IMI chief executive Sarah Sillars: “This is a great way of showing young people what the real motor industry is like and the skills that are needed for a career. Over time, with closer links between schools and colleges, the valuable support of major industry players and the backing of Learning and Skills Councils, more positive perceptions of the motor industry will develop in the education system so that a career within it becomes aspirational.”
The Honda Institute, Honda’s centre for technical training and personnel development, has also thrown its weight behind the Pre-Apprenticeship programme.
In conjunction with the IMI, Honda Institute has supplied protective clothing and safety footwear for 22 budding technicians at Richard Hale School in Hertfordshire, who have enrolled on the programme. The school will use its own technical training facilities in conjunction with the motor vehicle department at Epping Forest College, an IMI approved training centre. “The IMI Pre-Apprenticeship programme is great news for the industry,” says Geoff Matthews, head of the Honda Institute. “It fits with the existing apprentice schemes and allows people to get a head start in a career that has a real future. As a manufacturer we believe that the programme will also help recruit a new breed of inquisitive minds into the industry. We look forward to welcoming the fruits of the new scheme into our future apprentice programmes.”