Leah Hill, a 25-year-old Vehicle Maintenance apprentice at FedEx’s Leicester depot, discusses where it began, what she’s most enjoyed and what the future holds.
With a widespread skills shortage in Manufacturing sectors across the UK, apprenticeships are increasingly being seen as a preferred option for talented young people looking to specialise in a trade.
Louise Whitehouse, Managing Director Fleet Maintenance Europe at FedEx Express said, “We believe that it’s more important, now than ever before, for companies to increase their efforts in upskilling the next generation. There are industry-wide concerns about the skilled-labour shortage and younger people are perhaps feeling isolated by the thought of crippling University debts. As a result, apprenticeships have become an increasingly attractive opportunity for many people.
At FedEx, we’re extremely proud of our apprentices. They don’t just learn from us; we also learn a lot from them. They offer fresh ideas and new ways of thinking, while their enthusiasm and commitment add a new dynamic and passion to our teams – which in turn contributes to business growth and innovation.
Once an apprentice gains their qualifications, the learning shouldn’t stop there, and companies like FedEx can ensure that apprentices continue a pathway of progression and personal development, which will help enhance their careers.”
How it began
‘After finishing school, I was working in retail, but soon realised this wasn’t something I could see myself doing for the rest of my life. I wanted to specialise in a trade that I was passionate about, considered a hobby and had a strong, encouraging emphasis on career progression and opportunity. This is what led me to the Vehicle Maintenance Unit (VMU) Apprenticeship scheme with FedEx.
As a young girl, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in cars. Their history, the evolution of mechanics and of course, as with any car-enthusiast, making the case that a car does so much more than simply ‘take you from A to B’.
Growing up, I would spend some weekends with my Dad fixing-up old, disregarded ‘bangers’ and reinvigorating whatever charm and character each car had in its former life. Some weekends when we needed parts, Mum and I would go out and collect them for Dad, saving some time so we could finish the repairs and have the car working for the week to come.’
‘I started to research possible apprenticeships and instinctively knew that the VMU Apprentice program with FedEx was exactly what I was looking for. I was really excited about a training program that provided the opportunity to learn, work and earn, as well as getting my Level 3 Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) accreditation. Now I can go anywhere in the world and work with HGVs, it is an incredible opportunity!
I was absolutely thrilled to be offered a place and started as a VMU Apprentice in September 2017. I will be fully qualified after five years and am currently in my second year.
I spend six weeks of the year at the Bristol Academy doing classroom study with my colleagues and applying our new skills in a practical and interactive way in the workshop. The rest of the year is spent training on site.’
What I enjoy the most
I really enjoy working with a variety of people from different backgrounds, each equipped with their own range of expertise. Not to mention being one of just two female apprentices.
What I have been most of proud of, is the progression I’ve made and the trust and faith my team have in me. When you first start, naturally you’re being supervised closely, over time this progresses to working semi-independently and then to where I am now, an independent worker in a high-intensity environment.
I’ve always felt FedEx has a constant interest and focus on my professional and personal progression, it’s a fantastic supportive environment for any person looking to specialise in a trade.’
‘I am a vehicle technician on the morning shift. I am trained to repair defected vehicles within 30 minutes, before they get back on the roads. I also carry out Vehicle Services and MOT inspections.
‘Faulty’ vehicles can include anything from a broken brake light, flat tyre or a non-start, you name it. Because of this, the training I’ve had has been so broad and developed. I’ve taken my childhood interest and evolved it, so not only can I work with cars in my spare time, but I can make a living working with HGVs through the week.
It is undeniably a role in a high intensity environment that requires independent proactiveness. We are trusted to get the job done whilst meeting all safety requirements in a short time frame, so our colleagues on the roads can get the packages out to customers as expected and on time.
Are people surprised by what you do?
‘For those who have known me since my childhood… no! I think they would only have been surprised if I’d done something outside of vehicle mechanics.
However, those who don’t know me, insurance providers over the phone for example, do struggle to comprehend that a young woman could be a vehicle technician. I’m typically asked, “sorry could you please repeat that”, when I know full well that I’ve spoken clearly and repeated myself several times.
The answer here is yes, overall. Most people, even in 2020, still don’t expect to see women, especially young women, working in industries like mine which traditionally have been male dominated. Perhaps this is a reflection on the industry, which is why it is so important for businesses like FedEx to proactively run apprenticeship schemes.’
How my life changed
‘It has been amazing. I feel like I’m working in an environment that is constantly realising my potential, but also helping me to realise it.
The apprenticeship is giving me the opportunity to specialise in a trade that has great opportunities for progression and one that will enable me to provide for my loved ones in the years to come.
Not only this, but the friends I’ve made and a newfound confidence in myself has been an especially rewarding benefit of the apprenticeship.
Looking back on my journey so far, I genuinely feel so lucky to have had this opportunity and would really encourage other young women to consider this career pathway. It is not easy, but it is worth the all hard graft you’ll put in to get the end-result.