From education to employment

Proof that neurodiverse apprentices can win WorldSkills competitions

Sue Pittock OBE is CEO of Remit Training

The challenge for independent training providers to enter apprentices into the WorldSkills UK competitions has not been an easy one.

Private capital investment and considerable colleague time are needed, and the preparation has to be accommodated within the employer’s job role expectations for each apprentice.

Remit aims to design, develop, and deliver programmes that create opportunities for our apprentices to confidently enter, compete and ultimately win medals. Remit is therefore delighted to be celebrating not just one but four medallists from the latest WorldSkills competition including two golds, one silver and a bronze.

The competition had four streams: Automotive Technology, Automotive Body Repair, Automotive Refinishing and Heavy Vehicle Technology. Remit had 24 worthy learners register to compete across all four categories with many reaching the heats stage and to have four confirmed medallists in three categories is testament to the hard work and skill of our learners, employers, and Remit trainers. We are incredibly proud of all the learners that went through this process. We look forward to supporting those medallists preparing for the international stages in September 2023

What makes us particularly proud is that two of our medal winners achieved their success with the help of additional learner support.

George Hinkley is employed by Scania GB at the company’s South Mimms depot and he won gold in the Heavy Vehicle Technology category. His personal passion for his job started as a child and is demonstrated not only by his career choice but also by the time and effort he places in his own continuous personal and professional development. From his interest in nuclear physics, restoring of old Land Rovers and creation of model steam locomotives in his spare time, he began acquiring knowledge and skills by doing work experience whilst still at school at a local bus and coach garage.  Like all our apprentices, George has acquired new skills in preparation for the recent competition by attending block release with our expert trainers.

As one of our neurodiverse apprentices, George is a person with autism and while many incorrectly believe this to be a barrier to learning and achievement, he says that he has learnt to harness it as a strength. “I wouldn’t call my autism a disability”, George says; “In my case I would call it an advantage. It’s quite simple really, I’ve learnt to forget the negatives and focus on what I love. And for me that is fixing trucks.”  His managers at Scania GB and trainers at Remit have made reasonable adjustments, for example allowing him extra time and space to acclimatise to new people and social situations and George has thrived both in his apprenticeship and career with a bright future ahead. 

A silver medal winner in the Automotive Refinishing category, Bethany Creaser of FMG Repair Services in Chilham is happy for it to be known that the Remit team has played a very valuable role in offering support for her mental wellbeing. Bethany initially sought assistance from our Safeguarding team who referred her to professional external support which can be an agency or charity such as Remploy and MIND. This tends to work better than referrals to a GP because GPs are so busy, and the professional support can give the apprentice access to a regular and familiar face.

The block release element of our training means that every other month an apprentice can spend 4 or 5 nights in a hotel, many of them away from home on their own for the first time. It is essential that pastoral support is available, and we have a mobile safeguarding number open 24 hours a day for any learner that needs a bit of extra support. Bethany is a shining example to both adults and young people in both recognising the signs and importantly seeking the right advice and guidance when they need it. A positive and proactive attitude to maintaining positive mental health are all critical on any journey of learning and preparation for assessment. Remit applauds Bethany for her candour and openness around the topic. Bethany, also Apprentice of the Year winner at the recent Bodyshop Industry Awards, is also a beacon for what is possible for women in automotive, currently still wildly underrepresented in most categories.

Pandemic’s impact on wellbeing

The impact of the pandemic on individuals’ wellbeing has obviously added urgency in supporting both apprentices and colleagues and at Remit, we have worked very hard as a provider to move beyond signposting individuals to support which simply isn’t enough.  Front line supervisors, managers and senior leaders desperately lack the skills for early identification and intervention and more critically, the tools to nurture a culture that minimises the triggers of poor mental health in the first place. That is why we ensure all our trainers and tutors are Mental Health First Aid England trained and we provide a wealth of resource to our learners all year-round to both maintain good awareness of their own wellbeing levels and access support in real time.

At the IMI and WorldSkills UK competition, George and Bethany were joined on the podium by Ieuan Morris-Brown who won gold in the Body Repair category and Aleksander Zielechowski of PCL in West Thurrock, a bronze medal winner in Heavy Vehicle Technology. These fantastic results will hopefully inspire more Remit apprentices to enter future competitions because each medal signifies a strong and high-quality investment in skills training by the apprentice, their employer and us, their training provider.

Making automotive more attractive to young women

While Bethany Creaser is busting gender stereotypes in the automotive sector, we are welcoming more female apprentices to our three academies in Derby and Motherwell who go on to achieve phenomenal success.  This is vital because the sector suffers from a major shortage of skilled technicians, body repairers and painters, which is exacerbated by the need to train thousands more to maintain and repair EV cars, light vehicles, and trucks. On a positive note, the fast switchover to EV aligns the sector closely with green skills which can feel like a more attractive career path to many young people of all identities. 

Moreover, our competition medal winners prove that neurodiverse apprentices are as capable as filling the skills gaps at all levels as others without neurodiverse needs. The key point is to establish excellent communication between the apprentice, employer, and provider from the start, which involves listening to the apprentice, resulting in an agreed style of learning that will allow the apprentice to move forward. A huge congratulations to all our World Skills nominees, winners and employers who are all fantastic advocates for a fast-paced and future facing industry we’re proud to be a part of.

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