Dean Stocking is 19. When he left school, he trained in light vehicle mechanics, but he is now studying for a three-year NVQ in HGV engineering as an apprentice with Essex County Fire Service. The service is one of five in the country to have signed up to a “blue-light scheme” to address skills shortages.

"I was looking for work as a mechanic when a family friend told me about an information day at Essex County Fire Service. I went along and they explained that their two apprentices would spend three years training on the job, with four, two-week blocks a year at Stephenson College in Leicester. I filled out an application form, and was interviewed by the fire service and the college. I also had to do a basic maths and English test for the college. I was really chuffed when I found out I'd got it!

It's quite a well-paid apprenticeship, and you get trained to a high standard. Work starts at 8am, and our mentor (a fully trained engineer) shows us how to repair and maintain the vehicles. We get some tasks to do like draining the engine oil, changing an oil filter or stripping down a fire pump.

"We wear normal overalls to work, but we get T-shirts with the fire service badge. It's not just any old garage: once we were in a station working on a vehicle and the other one got called out, so we had to finish up quickly in case ours was needed. It's quite rewarding.

"So far we've had three stints at college, learning about health and safety, electrics and engines. There are 25 apprentices on this scheme; we have a good laugh. The group is split and in the first week, one half is in the workshop doing practicals while the other is in the classroom learning theory. Then you switch over.

"I'm hoping if all goes well, I'll get a job here when I qualify. But we've been told there are no guarantees, so it's a case of getting my head down and trying to make sure I do."