Join the drive for female forces in the motoring industry

If you're ambitious, talented and female, there could be an exciting career for you in the world of cars, says Amy McLellan
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The Independent Online

It's a combination destined to get the pulse racing: one Italian supercar, a difficult racetrack, heavy rain and clouds of spray. But stepping out of the 415bhp Maserati GranSport Trofeo and onto the winner's podium was no race-hardened driver but British supermodel Jodie Kidd in only her third race. (The manic Gumball 300 Rally, which sees petrolheads and celebrities race expensive cars across Europe and of which Kidd is a veteran, doesn't count.) She isn't the only female celebrity to excel on the track. Vicki Butler-Henderson, best known as a presenter for channel Five's car show Fifth Gear, started her racing career at the tender age of 12. By 17, she was working as a racing instructor at Brands Hatch and Silverstone, and in 2004 she became the first woman to win the Maserati Trofeo race at Silverstone. Her top speed? 178 miles per hour in an Aston Martin Vanquish.

If you fancy following in Vicki or Jodie's screeching tyre tracks, then it's worth contacting the Motor Sports Association ( www.msauk.org) for details of your local club. The MSA also has details of job opportunities and runs a Women In Motor Sports focus group. And if you have four GCSEs at grade C or above, then colleges across the UK can train you to become a motorsport technician - just try the Motorsport Industry Assocation website, www.the-mia.com, for more.

Motor sport, of course, only accounts for a small fraction of the UK motor industry - if you think £4bn annual turnover is small, anyway. Despite headlines about the demise of British car manufacturing, there are 1.6 million cars rolling off the production line in this country every year. It takes an army of people to design, build, promote, sell, finance and repair these vehicles - and the industry is crying out for talent.

Recruiters, anxious to keep the booming automotive sector on track, are encouraging more women into the industry to fill skills gaps - supported by companies like EMTEC, which is a motor industry apprentice training business. Stephanie Phillips, 18, is an EMTEC apprentice in Toyota's light vehicle division.

"Being the only woman has never been an issue for me," says Stephanie. "When you first join, you're a bit of a novelty but that soon wears off as you knuckle down to the work."

And the work is the real attraction. Apprenticeships (see www.apprenticeships.org.uk) offer the chance to "earn as you learn" and a wide range of automotive employers offer places, from the AA to Ferrari Maserati.

Engineering graduates are also in demand in this sector. If you're planning to go to university and want to get a taste of life in the automotive industry, then "The Year In Industry" scheme ( www.yini.org.uk) provides paid gap-year placements with the likes of car giant BMW.

Mirren Turnbull is spending her gap year with Rolls-Royce, working in the luxury car company's bespoke department - a very exclusive Pimp My Ride-style service, if you like. "The work is very interesting - I'm currently working on a fridge for someone's car," says Mirren, adding that the high-tech Chichester facilities are a world away from what she expected to find in the motor industry.

It seems the main barrier to women getting on in the industry is the decision not to apply in the belief that it's dirty, heavy, low-paid work. But in reality, this is an industry that prides itself on cleanliness, deploys state-of-the-art technology and, with a turnover of over £180bn a year, can provide work that is both professionally and financially rewarding.

KNIGHT RIDER

For many young women, a career in a sector where you are in the minority is a daunting prospect. Only one to two per cent of apprentices in the motor industry are currently female - and many girls are put off it for just that reason. Not Laura Knight, 17, who completed her motor industry post-14 programme last summer, and then started an apprenticeship to train to become a motor vehicle technician with Lexus. Laura is benefiting from a new initiative - the female support network - which has been introduced by EMTEC, the apprentice learning division of the Carter & Carter Group.

"My only concern when I started was whether I was going to enjoy it," Laura says. "I was nervous about meeting new people - but it was the same for everyone. I was made to feel really welcome, although I missed having female friends on the course. Even so, I was convinced that I had made the right decision.

"A number of my girl friends have said to me that they would have liked to do an apprenticeship in the motor industry but were put off because it is so male dominated. They don't really have any idea what it's like or what different career options are open to them. I'm training to be a service technician but there are 12 different apprenticeship programmes and they're not all about working on cars - there are admin and sales ones too.

"The female support network at EMTEC has been great for me. It's headed by Maria Moult, mum to two teenagers, and a former service technician herself who went on to become a trainer and now works as an internal verifier with EMTEC. She has a team of nine female mentors who support girls throughout their apprenticeship. It's such a good idea! My mentor is Heather Froggatt and I get on well with her. She's not pushy and doesn't constantly check with me whether everything is OK which I'm pleased about, but I know that she's always there if I need her at any time of the day."

Libbi Macgregor

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