Despite the disruption of the pandemic, Yorkshire-based family business JCT600 recruited another 13 young people in 2020 as part of its continued commitment to developing talent in the automotive industry. It plans to recruit another 30 apprentices this year.

While the close contact between apprentices and mentors meant that some of the company’s existing 93-strong apprentice cohort had to be furloughed earlier in 2020, 60% of first year apprentices had returned to work by September with social distancing measures in place to keep them safe.

“Having set up our own carefully tailored training scheme for young people seven years ago, we were devastated when COVID struck and the necessity of working together closely while training meant that we had to pause the programme,” comments Katie Saunders, HR director. “From apprentice technicians to parts advisers and service advisers, the scheme is a fantastic way of us attracting talent into the business and a great opportunity for young people to embark on a planned and supported career path.

“Despite the challenges, we were determined to continue the programme and now have measures in place in most of our 54 dealerships to enable our apprentices to continue their training safely. While some have moved to other areas of the business where distancing is more practical, we have been able to keep them involved and also have plans to introduce bubble systems in some cases. Much of the formal training from the automotive brands has moved online and is continuing via virtual classrooms. We also have weekly well-being calls to ensure that apprentices are getting the support they need given the reduced face-to-face contact.

“With many other car retailers having stopped apprentice recruitment, we felt it was important to continue to bring young people on board and we’ve noticed that we’ve had a lot of applicants who have been made redundant from their apprenticeships. We’re proud to have recruited another 13 apprentices last year and, as the world returns to something like normality, we hope to recruit another 20 by late June.”

Two young people at Mercedes-Benz Sheffield who have taken advantage of JCT600’s apprenticeship scheme are Ben Collinson and George Moore, both from Rotherham.

Ben, 17, who joined JCT600 in January 2021 as an apprentice customer service adviser, undertook a work experience placement with Mercedes-Benz Sheffield in summer 2019 while he was at Wingfield Academy in Rotherham, and made such an impression on the team that they invited him to interview for the position.

Ben says: “I’ve always been interested in working in the motor industry, but didn’t know which role would suit me best. I embraced the opportunity of work experience at Mercedes-Benz and chose to do an extra week there in February 2020 which showed me that customer service was the area I wanted to be in. It’s a fantastic career and the great thing about JCT600 is that anyone can join the business with very little experience and work their way up; it’s a company where hard work can get you where you want to be.”

George, 18, who had completed his second year as a parts apprentice at Mercedes-Benz Sheffield, has always wanted to be a technician and applied for an apprentice technician vacancy which he started in January. He said: “I’ve always loved cars and dreamt of being a technician, but as there wasn’t a vacancy when I applied two years ago, I thought that training as a parts adviser would be a good way of getting into the car trade. I’d hoped that I would be able to switch to training as a technician at some point, but hadn’t expected to be given the chance so soon.

“Being an apprentice with JCT600 is really good – you’re very supported with your training and their internal communications are great so you feel part of a larger team.”

The company will again be running two and three year apprenticeships resulting in NVQ Level 2 and 3 qualifications alongside IMI Technical Certificates. As well as providing supportive managers and colleagues throughout JCT600, the company also gives each apprentice their own trained mentor in the work place and a vocational learning adviser linked to their training college.