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Rob on the road Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 14:10 GMT
Motor industry's drive for recruits
Workshop at college
Students at East Berkshire build their own cars
There might not be any major British-owned car marques these days, but that doesn't mean the UK motor industry is dead.

Overseas manufacturers run thriving plants in this country - Toyota at Derby, Peugeot in Coventry, Nissan at Sunderland.

The motor industry is still an important part of the UK economy, generating 45bn in turnover and providing more than 700,000 jobs.

But to remain a strong manufacturing force, it must recruit young people into all areas.

It's estimated that there's a shortage of 15,000 apprentices.

Potential

And when you consider that 20% of motor engineers are over 45, you can see there's a potential employment crisis in the offing.

Mechanics
East Berkshire has more than 300 students
But it's not just about working in big factories - the UK has a global reputation in motorsport and who do you think repairs and services all those cars which clog up our roads?

One example of that recruitment drive can be seen at a new training centre at East Berkshire College.

It cost 2m and has facilities for 60 full-time and 300 part-time students.

Refurbishment

These include four workshops, a rolling road and an autotronics laboratory.

There's been motor training here for 50 years, but the refurbishment shows the industry's importance both locally and nationally.

Trainee mechanics
Most students go to local firms
It's a partnership between local companies and education authorities.

"There's always recruits out there but it's getting the right breed from day one, at a skill level that we can all achieve," says Terry Anson of Thames Fiat.

With three-quarters of the college's students going on to work for local firms, it's obviously proving a fruitful relationship.

Simon Swizinski used to be involved in social work - now he's studying on a motorsport course.

Simon Swizinski
Simon: Career change
"This was something I maybe would have liked to have done 20 years ago when courses like this didn't really exist," he says.

Danny Savage already has a job and is hoping to become a fully qualified mechanic.

"I've wanted to do it ever since I can remember. I started doing it when I left school but I was only on 60 a week," he says.

"I've got another opportunity to do it and I'm quite pleased with it."

Vocational

This week the government issued a Green Paper aimed at encouraging more 14-16 year- olds to take vocational rather than academic courses at school.

The college's acting principal, Jean Robertson, says centres like this have a vital role to play.

Jean: Motivation
"We've already got 100 14-15 year-olds coming to the college two times a week to actually undertake some vocational streams," says Jean.

"You can see the motivation in their faces - they thoroughly enjoy it."

She believes having facilities like this can encourage people to join industries which are not usually seen as glamorous.

There are plenty of initiatives to help the automotive sector.

It has recently published a careers guide - launched by Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt - aimed at boosting recruitment.

Cheaper costs

And in Essex, a new centre has been jointly funded by local colleges and Ford.

It will provide the motor giant with 200 apprentices, but will also supply the wider industry with hundreds of highly trained engineers.

As so much manufacturing ebbs overseas where costs are cheaper, there's a recognition that the UK's future lies not with lower wages but with higher skill levels.

The government is investing in the car industry to promote its expertise in design and production techniques - and to keep providing jobs well into the future.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rob Pittam
"It's a 2m investment to tackle a problem that's become a national issue"
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