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The secret to building a WorldSkills finalist

With motivated young talent and a well-oiled support structure, every company can hope to produce world-class apprentices, writes Dean Lander

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With motivated young talent and a well-oiled support structure, every company can hope to produce world-class apprentices, writes Dean Lander

At Thatcham Research we have trained more than 1,400 apprentices since 2004. Many have gone on to succeed in the collision repair industry, but recently one apprentice’s achievements in particular stood out from the crowd.

His name? Daryl Head. Daryl, who specialises in paint and refinishing, is employed by Nationwide Accident Repair Services, and has recently qualified to represent the UK at the renowned WorldSkills competition in Abu Dhabi this October. A brilliant young man with exceptional talent, he explained to me how he had always wanted to work in the repair industry, having tinkered with cars with his dad, who was self-employed in the trade from a young age. I know that, not even in his wildest dreams, a trip to Abu Dhabi to compete against the most talented technicians in the world was something he expected to be doing. 

If helping apprentices reach Daryl’s standard was an exact science with a recipe, we’d have a factory line of them coming out of our academy. But how far an apprentice wants to go is ultimately down to the qualities of the individual.

That’s why we put a significant emphasis, with the support of employers, on rigorous selection criteria and carefully targeted marketing to entice the right individuals with the requisite drive and desire for a career in crash repair.

If the individual has those qualities, the whole process is made so much easier.

Support and advice 

State-of-the-art facilities also have a role to play. We are lucky in that respect, because our apprentices get to work on vehicles that have the very latest technologies. You must also add into that mix a highly skilled and knowledgeable mentor. Someone who understands that an apprentice is on a learner journey – which is about more than making tea and sweeping the floor. This goes for the employer too. Nationwide is and remains an exceptional career destination for individuals such as Daryl.

In that respect, close collaboration with the employer and mentor is vital. This enables us to identify live tasks that have to be completed in the workplace. It’s then a case of making sure that the blocks of time the apprentice has with us are focused on learning knowledge and skills to underpin those tasks.

Apprenticeships provide a path towards a real-world job, rather than simply a certificate. Perhaps that can be considered a factor in engendering the drive and ambition seen in Daryl? Training is provided with a view to taking a position at the end of the process, as is supported by government legislation. Add to that the fact that apprentices are paid a salary while they learn, and what’s not to get excited about?

The positive dynamic of working in an inherently exciting industry must be considered another factor. Just look at the technology these guys are learning to fix and repair: it's state of the art, pioneering stuff. And although it sounds grand to say, when you repair cars safely, you save lives. A post-repair vehicle that hasn’t been returned to a road-fit and safe condition can cost someone their life.

The skills and competencies required to repair vehicles will always be in demand. Apprentices – young and old – can work enthusiastically towards future-proofed careers.

Dean Lander is head of repair sector services at Thatcham Research

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