Why the UK motor industry is still in top gear

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The Independent Online

There are many myths about vehicle manufacturing in the UK, fuelled to no small extent by MG Rover's very public demise last year. So, no career there for you, then? Far from it. Contrary to what your impressions might be, vehicle design, manufacture and production is alive and kicking.

Admittedly, the days when Great Britain boasted a home-grown motor manufacturing industry that was the envy of the world are long gone. What you may not realise is the extent to which overseas manufacturers have been prepared to invest in our workforce's skills to manufacture vehicles under their brand name. Even so, competition has been growing from competitor economies such as China, so the Government decided a while ago that something needed to be done about it.

In 2004, they created the Automotive Academy, which provides training from the shop floor right through to the boardroom. They specialise in what is known as lean manufacturing, which makes a real difference to a company's profitability. Much of the course material has its foundation in Japanese continuous improvement techniques, and everything is delivered by experts. Training is a case of what's called "learning by doing", and results in students achieving NVQs at levels 2 and 3.

For those aiming for loftier heights, there's a Higher Apprentice programme that involves a Foundation Degree in engineering - specially designed to meet the needs of the industry - which is due to be launched late in 2006.

Today's motor industry is looking for young people keen to meet the challenges of new technology. In manufacturing, traditional engineering skills are influenced more and more by advances in robotics and computers but personal qualities such as leadership are just as important.

FACT BOX

* The UK makes nearly two million vehicles a year.

* The UK hosts more major manufacturers than any other country in Europe, including Nissan, Honda, Toyota, BMW, Ford (covering Jaguar, Land Rover, Aston Martin), GM, and VW Group.

* The motor industry - both retail and manufacture - employs more than 850,000 people.

BEST IN SHOW!

The careers village at the British International Motor Show will give you as much information about making cars as selling and repairing them, so if you want to know more the only place to be is the ExCeL exhibition centre from July 20-30. Visit www.automotiveskills.org.uk/motorshow.

In the meantime, visit:

Automotive Academy, www.automotiveacademy.co.uk

Concept Car, www.conceptcar.co.uk

DTI Auto Industry, www.autoindustry.co.uk

SEMTA, www.semta.org.uk

SMMT, www.smmt.co.uk

Here are a few of the main career paths available:

Design engineers

Turn experimental research and development into new vehicles, either as totally new models or improved versions of existing ones.

Development engineers

Turn designs into the required products, and build prototype models used for testing. Their job centres on assessing individual components and complete vehicles against cost, performance and safety.

Production engineers

Organisers and planners, usually working with state-of-the-art, flexible manufacturing and computer-controlled facilities. They are responsible for making sure that high quality raw materials or components are turned into high-quality products.

Marketing managers

Marketing managers fit products to people, using sophisticated market-research techniques and dealer-customer clinics to guide manufacturers' decisions on how best to meet customer demand.

Technician engineers

Work with professional engineers using computers, modern materials and electronics on detailed and demanding tasks.

Craftspeople

Carry out detailed work and are trained to turn engineering drawings and instructions into finished products.

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