Sometimes perseverance is key to a successful career because while it may not always be an easy journey, following your dreams is always worth it
Sophie Hemming candidly admits that securing a vehicle technician role was frequently challenging in male-dominated garages. So much so that, despite a life-long love of motor cars, the 26-year-old put off taking her Level 3 in Light Vehicle Maintenance and Repair for several years.
After completing ‘A’ Levels at Pembrokeshire College, in 2015, Hemming qualified with a Level 1 in Light Vehicle and Maintenance Repair and a Level 2 qualification in Motorsport: “I have a passion for race cars and from a young age would help my dad fix up a long line of old vehicles. I knew early on that it was the career path for me,” she says.
Moving to Southampton, Sophie was disillusioned with repeated rejections when trying to secure a vehicle technician role; “I was either under-qualified with a Level 2 or was frankly told that as a woman I wouldn’t fit in,” so she found a role as a seamstress.
Being furloughed during the pandemic, Sophie quickly realised that her ambition to work within the automotive industry had not been quashed.
Signing up for a Level 3 at Eastleigh College, Sophie was also employed by the college as a Learning Support Assistant, teaching Level 1 and 2 automotive students. Teaching could have potentially been the default career for Hemming had her course leader not mentioned the Autotech Academy internship programme.
Created to help thousands of students get a foothold on the automotive career ladder and support employers when recruiting new talent, Autotech Academy provides qualified college leavers with a gateway into the industry through a paid internship.
“Autotech Academy has been amazing. They took all the hard work out of the job seeking process, from finding a placement, providing me with tools and a uniform, and making the introductions. I just had to prove myself,” says Hemming.
Starting at Richmond ŠKODA, Botley, in early September, Sophie readily admits that she has ‘landed on my feet.’ Working with the team, Hemming has put her theory to good practice, spending two days in her first two weeks shadowing each vehicle technician. At the start of the third week, she spent the morning working with the Master Technician who, after assessing her ability, gave Hemming her own ramp in the afternoon.
“Since then, I have been working independently. The team here are great. I am continually given new tasks and am encouraged to ask questions if unsure. As a dealer garage, the work is timed, so it’s a fast way to learn to work efficiently and with confidence,” she says.
Sophie’s Manager, Matt Savage, comments: “At Richmond, we only want people with a can-do approach, and Sophie has demonstrated that with her commitment to succeed in a challenging industry. She has settled in well working within a great team, and we know that our investment with Hemming through Autotech Academy will support our business moving forward. It is important that we encourage and support Sophie to continue her development and prove that success is about attitude and not anything else.”
Group Aftersales Manager Ross Alesbury also adds: “It’s always great to see new people coming into the industry, and success stories like Sophie’s are a demonstration that the industry can be inclusive, albeit there is a huge challenge to change perceptions. However, here at Richmond Motor Group, we want to fully support people who are willing to learn and develop their skills to have a long and enjoyable career with us.”
It may have been a challenging journey to get to where she wanted, but it’s been worth the trials and tribulations: “I am delighted to finally be in this position. At college, I was considerably outnumbered, and there were only three other women on all of the automotive courses I took combined. However, the opportunities for women, even in the few years since I completed my Level 2 course, seem to have increased within the industry, and I would encourage any other woman with a passion for motor vehicles or engineering to follow her ambition,” says Hemming.