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What it's like to be a mechanic: We're driven by our passion

By Heather Large | Weekend | Published:

Abigail and Naomi Parkes share more than a sisterly bond – they are also both passionate about cars.

The teenagers love nothing more than investigating under a bonnet, changing a tyre or replacing a brake pad.

And they have no qualms about getting covered in oil and grease and aren’t daunted by pursuing a career in the traditionally male-dominated car industry.

The sisters, aged 18 and 19, both hope to become master technicians in the future so they can diagnose and repair the most difficult and unusual vehicle faults.

Their desire to train as mechanics was partly inspired by their father and grandfather’s love of cars.

“Our interest came from our dad and grandad talking about cars and our uncle was a mechanic too.

“We’ve always been around cars and we enjoy working on them and fixing them,” says Abigail.

They completed a Level 1 Motor Vehicle Diploma at City of Wolverhampton College’s Paget Road campus last year which gave them an understanding of the principles and procedures for carrying out basic vehicle checks and repairs.

Never exhausted by their love of cars are sisters Naomi and Abigail Parkes

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During the year they also learned how engines and components operate, about maintenance and the use of tools and skills in the removal and refitting of body panels.

They had previously attended Wolverhampton Adult Education Service in Old Hall Street and before that had been home schooled so had to adjust to college life quickly.

“It was very nerve-racking but we had a support worker to help us,” explains Naomi.

The sisters, who live in Perton and have six other siblings, have now progressed to working towards their Level 2 Diploma in Light Vehicle Maintenance and are currently being taught vehicle servicing processes. The course also covers health and safety and dealing with customers in a professional manner.

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They have one day in the classroom and the rest of their study time is spent in the college workshop putting what they’ve learned into practice on an array of vehicles including a Ford Focus and a Renault Clio.

“It’s good that it’s hands-on and you also get time in the classroom too,” says Abigail.

They are considering an apprenticeship or a degree course to gain more skills in the future.

They are the only female students in their class of 20 but say they are now treated like ‘one of the guys’. “When we first started we did get asked ‘why do you want to do this?’ but now they are used to us and they will ask us for help if they need it,” says Abigail.

But Abigail and Naomi do admit that their gender puts them at a slight disadvantage at times when it comes to the physical nature of the job.

“Sometimes we don’t have the strength we need to get some of the nuts and bolts off. We keep saying we need to go to the gym to build up some muscle,” says Abigail.

“We just have to work harder. There are always techniques you can use if you don’t have the strength,” adds Naomi.

They have found that being sisters, however, gives them a big advantage as they have discovered they make an efficient team.

“We know exactly what jobs we need to do and we just get on with them. We seem to know what we are each doing without having to tell each other. We work quickly and the other day we were able to work on two cars instead of one.

“People ask us if we are twins because we finish each other’s sentences,” says Naomi.

They admit that sometimes they may disagree on the best way to carry out a task when working on a car. “We have to hear each other out. We do argue but we never fall out for very long,” says Abigail.

Cars are the sisters' passion

You might expect them to list the likes Ferrari, Mercedes or Porsche among their favourite car manufacturers but it’s actually Volvo because of the Swedish firm’s record of safety.

“The cars are pretty indestructible in a crash so you are more likely to survive,” says Naomi.

They also have a soft spot for the Ford Fiesta. “It’s a simple car but it’s fun and sporty,” says Abigail.

They also love watching Formula 1 but admit it’s more to watch the breathtaking speed of the mechanics carrying out the pit stops during a race. “They are so fast, they change tyres in seconds. It’s amazing,” says Abigail.

Top team – Abigail and Naomi work well together

During their course they’ve had to get to grips with different car makes and models. “The cars can look very different so you have to identify where everything is before you can start. The first thing we have to do before we do anything is a damage report. This is what we would do with a customer’s car,” explains Naomi.

Abigail says one of her favourite jobs is removing wheels from a vehicle. “It’s quite fun and therapeutic,” she tells us. They don’t also don’t mind when they end up covered in oil and grease after a busy day in the workshop.

“It’s a messy job so you have to be prepared,” says Naomi. “Being a mechanic is messy, it comes with the job,” adds Abigail.

Although it is becoming a more popular job for women with female mechanics said to now account for 10 per cent of the workforce, the sisters have experienced scepticism from people in the industry.

“We’ve been looking for work experience. We’ve walked into some places and they’ve just given us a look. It’s made us more determined and in a few years we’ll be fixing their cars,” says Abigail.

Their advice for any other female would-be mechanics who may be wary about entering the field is to follow their dreams.

“I would tell them don’t give up on what you want to do and don’t listen to those who say you can’t do it,” says Abigail.

“Keep your determination and have a positive mindset. We weren’t sure how it was going to work out when we first started but it’s been even better than we thought it could be.”

  • The college’s next open evening is on Wednesday from 4pm to 7pm and those interested in motor vehicle courses can have a go at changing tyres, spray painting and checking oil and fluid levels in the workshops at the Paget Road campus. If any garages are able to offer placements to motor vehicle students, they can contact curriculum manager Neil Davies by email daviesn@wolvcoll.ac.uk
Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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