I’m a big fan of the apprentice. By that, I don’t mean the TV show with that obnoxious goon with the beard, who takes great personal delight in belittling people who are too stupid or egotistical to know better.
I mean the principle by which young people are encouraged into work by learning a trade, then picking up their skills in a live working environment from people who are older, more experienced and more skilled than they are. Indeed, the title of the TV programme riles me because I believe it completely undermines the value of what a real apprenticeship is about, but I digress.
I came into the trade via an apprenticeship. I was always a bright lad, interested in how things worked, crazy about cars, but never one for an academic life, even though my teachers and parents told me I was perfectly able to string a sentence together and perform advanced maths.
Fine, I probably could, but my working life was never going to be one of management, strategy or accounting. Cars, spanners, and taking broken things apart in order to mend them were my simple passions in life.
So, 25 years ago, I took an apprenticeship at a suburban garage 10 minutes away from my house. A quarter of a century later, in my early 40s, I’m still there. And I’m happy with that. Indeed, I’m now in charge of the oily side of the business, and over the years have acquired many good friends through the garage trade, be they customers, colleagues or others I’ve encountered such as sales reps, parts van drivers and even the postman. I love it. And I want to make sure that my apprentices love it, too.
We take on one new apprentice every three years, usually straight out of school. Our current lad, Kieran, is 17 and has been with us for about 18 months. I work the poor lad to the bones, for a rather miserly pay packet, but I believe that, in time, he’ll come to appreciate that.
We’re limited by what we can actually pay him by virtue of the apprenticeship being part government-funded, but I also don’t believe it does a young man any harm to scrimp and save to get what he wants, which in Kieran’s case is a souped-up orange Ford Focus that costs him almost half his salary per month to insure.
He lives with his mum and dad and doesn’t have a girlfriend… he’ll learn.
What we do, though, is give our apprentices a little something extra, which has been going on at our garage since I was in Kieran’s shoes. And that’s dead cars…
How it works is this. Quite often, and most ordinary garages will tell you the same, there comes a point where you have to tell a disappointed owner that their car is in the same boat as Monty Python’s parrot.
That, unless they’re prepared to spend much more than it’s actually worth to resuscitate it, their car is dead. No longer with us. It has packed up its bags and joined the choir invisible. Occasionally, that leaves our customers pining for their Fords… I’ll stop now.
More often than not, a customer has no further need for a dead car, so we do the decent thing and offer to dispose of it for them. We normally do this by dumping it round the back of the MoT shed, and chucking the key to our apprentice. At present, Kieran is in possession of a Peugeot 306 with a broken rear suspension beam, a Rover 45 with a blown head gasket and a Nissan Micra automatic that has completely lost drive. Quite frankly, I’m surprised the girls aren’t queueing up to date him.
However, I have every confidence that he will stoke up enough cash to cover this month’s princely insurance premium by reviving just one of those cars. After all, if Kieran wants to buy the bits he needs from the scrapyard, or spend hours of his own time dismantling and reassembling things that, at £45 an hour, are simply not worth someone else paying for, who are we to stop him?
Not only does reviving and selling dead cars give our apprentice a bit of extra cash in his pocket, but it teaches him two extremely important life skills. One is a very valuable and dedicated work ethic and the second is how to mend things, often independently. It’s how I learned, and how I became the person I am today.
Quite frankly, I’m proud of that, and of every young apprentice who follows suit. Kieran’s one of them – a good lad. But if he thinks he’s getting a pay rise after reading this, he’s got another thing coming…
Who is Our Kev? If we told you, we‘d have to kill you… What we can say is he‘s been around for longer than he cares to remember and has a fund of stories to tell…
On SuperUnleaded.com: Man Sees Parked Van, Takes Quite A Shine To It