A leading family-run car dealer in Bradford is increasing the number of female apprentices they employ.
Katie Saunders, the HR director of JCT600 confirms a growth of female apprentices from 2013 when only one per cent were female to 2018 where 10 per cent are.
Katie says that by promoting motor industry careers in schools and at job fairs they are actively changing perceptions that the automotive industry is a male-only career.
In fact, many of the senior roles at JCT 600 are now filled by women explains Katie.
“We have many inspirational females heading up our brands from Mercedes to commercial vehicles. We are seeing a philosophical move among females to say ‘you can do anything you want to.’ That message is much louder than it has been before and I think schools are starting to see this when they invite female-friendly employers in to talk to their pupils. That can only be a good thing.”
Two female apprentices at JCT60’s Porsche Centre in City West Business Park in Leeds are Jessica Suffield (left in photo) and Stacey Chandler (right in photo).
Jessica’s passion for motorsport was sparked when a friend introduced her to British truck racing and whilst her interest was initially in sports science, truck racing enabled her to combine this pastime with a profession.
She applied to join JCT 600’s apprenticeship scheme and has been working at The Porsche Centre since September 2016.
Stacey had joined the previous year, so Jessica wasn’t stepping into an entirely male-dominated environment.
Since then the girls have become friends and they have fitted in well with their male colleagues too. “We are just two of the lads!” laughs Jessica. “We all do stuff out of work together – but with more lads!”
As part of her training, Jessica is learning to work on Hybrid vehicles. Electric is perceived to be the way forward so the girls go for regular training, as part of their apprenticeship, at college in Shrewsbury and on courses with Porsche UK.
Working with classics as well as modern Porsches, Stacey’s training has taken her to Germany where she has benefited from the knowledge of experts who initially designed the cars.
“In Germany we go to Stuttgart HQ and are taught by people who designed and maintained the cars – they are German instructors, you have an interpretor in your ear and you learn the way they did it when they were new,” says Stacey.
Compared with their male counterparts, the girls may not have the advantages of strength and height. “But you find ways round it,” says Stacey, who gets to use her expertise on her own super car – a VW Lupo which she has modified with lowered suspension and fancy wheels.
For Stacey, anything ‘hands-on’ comes second nature – coupled with that is in an inherited passion for cars.
“When I was at school I was always hands on – I’ve always been brought up to do things, my Mum always made clothes,” says Stacey, referring to another skill she has. But cars won out it seems…
“I come from a car crazy family – we are all in the motor trade. My sister is a panel beater, my cousin is a welder, my father and uncle was a mechanic and my mum has always been interested in racing so I’ve been brought up as an adrenaline junkie” she admits.
Now the girls hope to inspire other women to follow in their footsteps.
“Anyone can do anything – if you have a passion and a determination you will get far,” says Stacey, who is one of only five classic technicians – and the only UK woman to be selected by Porsche UK as part of the support team for Project 70 – a race car built to commemorate Porsche’s 70th anniversary which took part in races including Classic Le Mans, Old Timers Grand Prix in Nürburgring and Silverstone classic.
“That is undoubtedly a career highlight for me,” says Stacey.
Last year Jessica, who drives a VW Polo, had the opportunity to join the pit team for the Boxster resto-racing car. “The Boxster resto-racing event started last year and now is becoming a regular championship,” she explains.
“I helped build the car to make it track ready, took it testing to Blyton park to make sure everything was ready prior to the racing and attended the race meets to help prep the car and make sure it was race to ready.”
Paul Teasdale, a mechanic and Jessica’s mentor, welcomes women into the workshop and says that both girls are ‘brilliant’.
Classic car technician, Paul Fawcett, who is Stacey’s mentor, says: “I am due to retire in November and I’ve never had a girl apprentice before. I can’t praise Stacey enough – she shows initiative, thinks outside of the box and is a wonderful kid.”