Pamela Chapman: Face the challenge and come out on top

It wasn’t just the IRTE Skills Challenge that put Pamela Chapman to the test on her journey into the coach and bus industry

Acting Assistant Engineering Manager at Arriva Pamela Chapman was named winner of the top-scoring Mechanical Apprentice category when she entered the IRTE Skills Challenge in 2014. She reveals how entering the coach and bus industry was a new direction in her life and helped her to realise her childhood ambitions.

Why did you choose to go down this career path?

That’s a difficult one to answer. I have a general interest in engineering. When I was a kid, my mum used to be a cleaner at a tractor yard. In the summer we’d go with her, and I loved the atmosphere, the smells of oil and grease. I always wanted to go inside the workshop. When I saw the parts lying on the floor, I wondered what they did and that sparked my interest.

How did you enter the industry?

I had to apply for Arriva’s apprenticeship scheme at Wigston. I got that, which I was surprised about because there were over 200 candidates. I had to spend four years training, after which I became fully skilled. Then I went on to the Chargehand supervisory role, giving me a little bit more responsibility. I spent just over a year doing that and then told Arriva I wanted to progress further. I had the option to become Assistant Engineering Manager, so did my first five months at Wigston Depot and I’ve come to Tamworth Depot to learn even more.

Was it difficult entering the apprenticeship?

It was horrendous. I had a family first – it was a case of getting my life in order. I was struck with guilt for my second child. Having to be a parent and a full-time working mum on apprentice wages, with a two-hour commute, meant I kept asking myself whether it was all worth it. But it had to be done if I wanted to get where I am now, so I knuckled down and carried on.

What made you keep going?

With apprenticeships you have to look at the bigger picture. You are going to have a skill and a trade and a better life, but you just need to put up with that initial pain. It’s easier for those who have just left school and who don’t have a family to raise – I just like to do things the wrong way around.

Would you recommend your job to others?

I would. There is a lot of job satisfaction that comes from it, especially when your vehicles pass their MoTs, or you repair a bus that comes in with a defect. You fix it and get it back out on the road, and you ensure passengers can get home. That’s satisfying.

“Having to be a parent and a full-time working mum on apprentice wages… meant I kept asking myself whether it was all worth it”

What are some other challenges you’ve faced?

The biggest challenge for me was moving from Wigston to Tamworth. At Wigston I worked my way up from the apprenticeship level; I learned my skills and developed there, I know everyone. At Tamworth I had to join as boss. Developing my own skills, being able to speak with people differently because they don’t know me and trying to gain respect was a huge learning curve.

What are your views on the Skills Challenge?

I think it’s a brilliant opportunity. A way to test yourself, gain confidence and – if you do well – a way to establish belief in yourself.

How should someone prepare for the Skills Challenge?

Get as hands on within the workplace as possible, especially if they are going in as an apprentice. Try to familiarise themself with certain aspects of vehicle layout – gain a rough idea of how the braking system works, or the suspension system. Get some footing and try and understand it a bit better before they go.

What did winning mean for you?

It meant a lot at the time. I’d only been in the job for nine months, so I didn’t feel that I was as good as some of the other apprentices, who had been there for a couple of years. To win made me feel like I was worth the job. It gave me a confidence boost to keep pushing myself, learn more, progress more and try to be the best I can be.

Do you feel more could be done to encourage people into the coach and bus industry?

I do. We need more people to be entering this kind of work because there are shortages. But we need to find the best way to go about recruitment; it’s a heavy, dirty job. We could spend more time in schools and if kids have an interest in engineering, or mechanical work, we should show them what we are about and nurture that interest.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Hopefully as Engineering Manager of my own depot. That would be amazing, and I would be Arriva’s first female Engineering Manager.