Four females starting out in the motor industry

Four females starting out in the motor industry

I first met Itziar Leighton, City College’s Director of Commercial and Enterprise, to discuss our shared aims. She wanted to promote the College’s STEM facilities to more young students and I wanted to encourage more young women into automotive careers at all levels, including workshops.

What was holding so many young women back from entering the UK motor industry I wondered?

We both agreed that there was nothing stopping young women from pursuing careers in STEM industries in theory, other than a list of perceptions held by many students and their parents, that are mostly out of date. Perceptions that the motor industry is about jobs for boys; that working in a garage doesn’t require academic prowess, is a dirty job and requires heavy lifting; that few women enjoy working with engines and that there simply aren’t the career opportunities for talented female students in such a resolutely masculine industry…

I have long thought that these perceptions needed challenging and who better to do this than Hannah, Sharnie, Sophie and Becky, current students at City College, so I met up with them recently to talk about their career plans in the motor industry.

Hannah Hunter

My first interview was with Hannah Hunter who is taking her Level 3 City & Guilds qualification in Motor Vehicle Maintenance. The College has also encouraged her to re-sit her English GCSE to up this from a D to a C grade. This year’s syllabus was about diagnostics and she was enjoying using different systems to identify and then solve mechanical problems.

Hannah had been bullied in her early years in secondary education. After moving school for this reason she decided to opt for a vocational day release scheme, working in a garage for a day a week. Supported by her brother and uncle who both work in the motor industry, when her new school friends laughed at her choice she was strong enough to defend her decision and realised she no longer needed peer support to do what she knew was right for her.

After completing her Level 3 course next June Hannah wants to work in a garage but suspects that her chances of getting a good job might be slim because she’s female. She thinks garages favour males and the statistics seem to bear this out.

To demonstrate her commitment and determination she worked in a Brighton garage for free during the summer holiday and clearly knows what she wants. A previous spell of work experience in a dealership’s accident repair bodyshop wasn’t for her, it’s clearly the mechanical side of things she loves best as she explains here.
“I really do love it all and find the problem-solving side of things especially fascinating. I’m not just working on a car, all the time I’m doing this I’m marvelling at how it’s been made and what makes it work.”

Sharnie Coldecott

Like Hannah, Sharnie is taking her Level 3 qualifications. She’d loved maths at school and whilst she’d been good at English and Drama as well she felt drawn towards a mechanical career and liked the idea of doing something different from her female peers. A cousin working in the industry had influenced her choice of career otherwise she thought she mightn’t have realised what the motor industry could offer her.

The City & Guilds programme fascinated and challenged her in equal measure she explained.
“It can be tricky, involving an in-depth knowledge of electrics, lots of thinking about possible faults and solutions whilst learning all about on board and diagnostic software.”

She knew precisely what she wanted to do in future explaining…
“When I’m older, I’d like to run my own garage and I’d do this mainly for women. Even now my family say they’d rather come to me than a man to look after their cars.”

Come June next year Sharnie will be looking for an apprenticeship and is keen to top up skills through learning throughout her career.

Sophie Poole

Sophie has just started her second year City & Guilds Level 2 course which she was enjoying because it involves more time in the workshop than in the classroom. She was learning how cars worked – in particular to do with their steering and suspension this term.

Sophie had been attracted to cars by the Top Gear trio back in Year 10 at school. Like Hannah and Sharnie she too had a cousin working in the motor industry and she’d worked out that a career working with cars was a real possibility.

Sophie plans to take Level 3 and wants to be a MOT tester in time. She knows this involves a 4 year training period. She explained that she likes to be organised, is thorough in what she does and aims to get her work done on time and as near to perfect as possible.

Sounds like a perfect MOT tester in the making to me.

Becky Bethel

After good GCSEs in Maths, English and Science Becky started her City & Guilds course in Motor Vehicle Maintenance at Crawley College. She moved to Brighton and resumed at City College. She was taking a Level 2 Diploma course, was confident about the outcome and clearly took the lead when it came to organising who did what in her otherwise all male student group.

She had inherited her love of cars from her father, helping him with repairs in the garage at home. She had also worked in a MOT garage for six months on a day release basis although she learned more about making tea than car mechanics she said.

Becky plans to run her own garage one day and has no qualms about her ability to do this. For the moment however she has financial concerns. She will be 19 before she finishes her Level 3 qualifications and, unless she can find an apprenticeship to fund this, chances are she’ll be unable to complete her course.

I was impressed by these four females and I hope they get snapped up by leading employers in Sussex when they finish their courses.

I plan to follow their career progress and have written this article to remind them of their ambitions when things get tough for them in future.

Don’t give up, the industry needs you!


To discuss my findings I then talked to Phil Hill, City College’s Team Leader in the Motor Vehicle Department, who confirmed my suspicion that there are indeed distinct gender differences in the workshop.

In Phil’s words…

“Most females seem to be more mature and better organised than males at the same age. Not only do young females look after their tools better but they tend to tackle jobs in a more methodical way, working from A-Z logically and without being told to. Yes male students do seem a lot more confident and might finish the job quicker but they don’t always do the job as thoroughly or in such a systematic fashion. As a result, important processes can get neglected in their haste.”


Of the two female students who left City College last year one is working as a part time bike mechanic supplementing her income with evening bar work. The other took a job with a leading car parts company and has recently left them to work in a better paid telecomms call centre. These are an expensive loss to the industry and I suspect they might be the tip of the iceberg across the UK.

If the motor industry wants to attract more women into its ranks in future it needs to do a lot more than just court them and their parents in schools. Colleges and apprenticeships are but the beginning of their careers and they need more support at that stage as well. Help to move onto the right career ladder with training, support and career development opportunities to make the most of their potential. And wages to match their skills.

Otherwise the industry will likely remain the male bastion it is, out of keeping with today’s balanced society and often oblivious to the needs and expectations of its female customers and potential employees. Maybe more females of this calibre in independent garage workshops could actively reduce the number of complaints Citizens Advice receive about shoddy workmanship and dangerous cars? I’d like to think so.

Surely it’s time the motor industry invested in getting more women of all ages into workshops? All the four females I spoke to at City College had a genuine and vocational commitment to their job; doing what they do because they love cars, because they realise they can make a difference in their respective areas and because they are serious about making this their career.

I’d like to see them, and other young female like them, given more support in the early stages of their careers.

Steph Savill

About City College, Brighton & Hove

With success rates running at 97%, City College’s Motor Vehicle department is one of the highest achieving in the country. Impressive facilities include a new state-of-the-art 11-car workshop, designed to meet the needs of the modern day service technician. The workshop has MOT standard equipment such as a brake roller tester, rolling road dynamometer, tyre and engine bays, five ramps, modern IT facilities and an external valeting area. In addition to full time courses for 16-19 year olds and part time courses for 19 yrs+ the College also runs courses for 14-16 year old students over a period of five school terms including working in a dedicated specialist workshop for that age group. You can find out more in this video.

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