Test drive a dream job: How to get paid to learn your trade

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The Independent Online

"Apprenticeships" is a buzz word right now, with tens of thousands of extra traineeships announced during the recent National Apprenticeship Week. No one in the motor industry was surprised: it has a long and successful history of investing in on-the-job training.

As an apprentice you will get skills and experience in a practical context, and if you find classroom learning uninspiring, it may be that this is a better way for you to learn. Apprentices usually spend one or two days a week studying theory in college (or at an in-house technical academy such as Jaguar Land Rover's new facility in Warwickshire), and the rest of the time working in a business as a junior member of staff.

Training takes two years for a Level 2 NVQ – or three years for Level 3 – but it is possible to complete it much more quickly. An apprentice mechanic would learn basic procedures at Level 2, but diagnostics (working out what's wrong with a vehicle) at Level 3.

Large companies run their own training programmes, such as the Honda Challenge, that go even further than vocational qualifications, helping apprentices to become the kinds of employees they value. These schemes teach life skills, drugs awareness, law, and personal finance. "These subject areas equip our apprentices with information that will help them contribute more to their community and business," says Kim McHugo of the Honda Institute.

As an apprentice you are a real employee contributing real work, so you'll be paid by the company that trains you. The minimum wage for an apprentice is £80 a week, but the Learning and Skills Council estimates that the average weekly wage for an apprentice in the motor industry is £136.

Before your eyes light up it is worth thinking about all your options before you choose what kind of apprenticeship to pursue. Think what it is that particularly interests you about the motor industry. If you are really into engines and how they work, you could train as a vehicle or parts technician. If you like people, think about training in roadside recovery – helping people who have broken down. If you've got a good eye for detail, you might be interested in vehicle body and paint operations (repairing or respraying). If you're a confident car enthusiast who has never missed an episode of Top Gear, you could consider a career in sales.

Once you've decided what you want for your future, rest assured that there are plenty of employers out there who know that apprentices are the future of their businesses. "Apprentices are the lifeblood of many companies across the whole automotive and transport arena," says Jon Winter, chief executive of the S&B automotive academy in Bristol. McHugo, at Honda, agrees: "We are relying more and more on the capacity to innovate to drive economic growth – the ability to do this depends on the skills and knowledge of our people."

'I like to prove girls can do just as well as boys'

Chloe Allen, 18, is studying for an NVQ Level 2 in light vehicle maintenance.

"I'm about halfway through the first year of an NVQ in light vehicle maintenance at Bridgwater College, Somerset, with the work portion at Lift West, a forklift company.

I spend Mondays in college. The day starts with key skills in maths, English and IT, but I don't have to do this because I have the GCSEs already. Instead, I use the time to work on my portfolio. Then there's a two-hour lesson that covers anything from changing oil to an engine rebuild. In the afternoon we watch videos or complete worksheets.

The rest of the week I'm at Lift West, supplying and maintaining forklift trucks in the workshop. I'm the only girl in the workshop and on my course, but I don't mind – I like to prove that girls can do just as well as boys, if not better.

As you learn new skills at work, you write out a job card and get someone to sign it to say what you've done. An assessor will come along to watch and mark you in different categories, such as servicing, engine components, electrical, housekeeping and working with others. You can get more than one skill marked during an observation.

Level 2 is supposed to take two years, but I've just had my review from college and they say I'm halfway through already – you can get it done quite quickly if you're focused. That's just the basic course, though; after that I'll do Level 3, which is meant to take another year. It's a higher qualification and it gets you further. After that I'd like to do an HNC and then a foundation degree in motorsport. I'll stay at Bridgwater College to do it because they've got a good training programme and they are very supportive: you feel like they're really trying to help you through the course."

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