Vital course needs support

Since September, individuals interested in progressing their career within Cayman’s automotive industry have been able to undertake the prestigious Institute of Motor Industry accreditation at The University College of the Cayman Islands, yet Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull says more support is needed for this crucial course, if it is to continue.

Last April saw the UCCI awarded its Approved Training Centre Certification and Accreditation plaque by the Institute of Motor Industry, by representatives from the UK, who travelled to Cayman to give the College rigorous assessment, which consisted of a week full of interviews and training sessions with the IMI’s Chief Verifier Stephen Longworth.

Owen Laurenson, the UCCI’s Automotive Programmes director and adjunct professor is spearheading this new automotive training programme, targeting the youth as well as experienced technicians of Cayman.

Laurenson says, “By offering this level of qualification to the youth of Cayman through a recognised governing body such as the IMI in the UK, the younger generation of Cayman will be well placed to fill future positions within the automotive industry both within the Cayman Islands and further afield should they wish to relocate their skills in the future.”

Laurenson completed a recognised Heavy Vehicle Apprentice programme and qualified as a certified automotive engineer, allowing him to hold various high level positions in the industry including automotive instructor and field engineer for Vauxhall Motors UK, working his way up to assistant chief engineer for General Motors UK at its test and development track in Millbrook, England.

He also went on to win the IMI’s business achievers award in the UK in 2006 before leaving GM to move to Cayman in 2007, proving that a qualified automotive engineer in the industry really can lead to fantastic opportunities and careers.

In-depth study

Over the nine month period of study from September 2008 to June Laurenson and his colleague, Michael Atterbury, have been teaching seven modules of study ranging from health and safety, vehicle chassis design, steering, suspension and tyres, braking systems, manual and automatic transmission, engines and vehicle electrics/electronics. The mode of study is split between relevant theory and hands on practical learning, with both online testing and workshop phase testing.

Evening classes for the first course started in September and are being held every Wednesday, usually at Tony’s Toys. Throughout the course syllabus students study and work toward earning a credible IMI and UCCI recognised Level 1 Certificate in Light Motor Vehicle Technology.

Yet Laurenson is concerned that unless further funding can be found to continue the course and develop it further, with proper facilities for students to progress with their studies at the UCCI, the course may well fall by the wayside.

Students who qualify at the end of the Level 1 Certificate in Light Motor Vehicle Technology can, if funds become available, then progress to Level 2, with the long term aim of studying all the way up to diploma level qualifications within the automotive industry. All levels of qualifications up to diploma level are fully accredited through the Institute of Motor Industry.

Students keen to learn

Those who have undertaken the first course have been extremely keen, as Laurenson confirms, “The first course has 19 students on board who have already progressed to module five of the course syllabus and are on track to complete the award by June. They have all seen the course through so far.”

Marcus Huggins is a student on the course and also a trainee mechanic at GT Automotive. He says that as a trainee mechanic the course has been extremely useful. “There is always something new to learn in the automotive field with technologies being developed every year,” he states.

David Terry works for Automotive Art as an inventory technician and says he would love to continue with the accreditation further, to the highest level possible.

Nathaniel Wilsher, who works at Scott’s Equipment and is a fulltime student says that he believes the course is “a perfect opportunity to get a firm start in the automotive industry. It has been an informative and challenging course. The instructors have helped me progress forward quickly and made it very interesting.”

Nathaniel states the course is extremely relevant to his work, saying, “It has given me an understanding of the fundamentals of mechanics, which helps me get my work done with more accuracy and it makes me more confident.”

“I would like to gain as much experience and skills as possible,” he adds.

Top course leads to top careers

The most significant outcome of the course is that young Caymanians are being trained to an extremely high degree in Cayman, which makes them highly marketable to the industry.

Laurenson confirms, “We are receiving more and more enquiries from local car dealers and garages in Grand Cayman for potential employment for the students on this course, as it proves that our students are eager to learn, want to take up employment within the automotive industry and through completing the course show commitment and come out with a recognised certificate when they complete the course. All of which is attracting interest from the industry in Grand Cayman.”

Mike Atterbury is working with the Renault and Volvo dealer at Euro Car and has two automotive technicians/mechanics on the course. He is also a lecturer for the IMI accredited Level 1 course and says, “There is a massive shortage of skilled technicians in Cayman and abroad. This course is so important to the industry because it means we do not need to source mechanics and technicians from overseas. It’s a fabulous opportunity for the mechanics who could be trained up to the highest level. The opportunities for them are then enormous.”

Atterbury says there is a concern that some of the big names in franchise dealerships are now requiring franchises to be staffed by qualified mechanics and that franchises could be lost if they are not properly staffed, which is a real concern, particularly as mechanics are in short supply globally.

“Up until this point mechanics have needed to go abroad to study, which is sometimes prohibitively expensive. Now there is no need to go overseas and we are able to train home-grown technicians,” he says.

At present, however, students are only able to take their studies up to the first level of the IMI accreditation. Atterbury says it would be fantastic if resources were made available at the UCCI to take the students all the way through their studies.

“Students who pass the Diploma Level are at management qualification level by then, which opens up their career field even further,” he comments.

Paul Bridge is the fixed operations manager at the local General Motors dealer, Advanced Automotive. Bridge has been looking for qualified staff but says it is tough.

“Anyone can say they can fix cars, but you need years and years of training in this dedicated field to be properly qualified to the level we require,” he states. “I need a technician and an individual to work in the administration field. They both need to be highly qualified to provide a proper service to clients.”

Bridge says his firm is in discussion with the IMI accreditation organisers to create a cooperative study whereby students can get some real life experience and hands-on training to complement their studies with the UCCI.

IMI visits Cayman

The IMI is visiting Cayman this month to carry out its annual assessment of the UCCI to ensure teaching materials and support processes used by the UCCI continue to meet the strict audit requirements of the Institute of the Motor Industry’s Awards department.

Following successful completion of the week-long audit the UCCI will be granted accreditation to continue teaching for another year up to diploma level both here in Grand Cayman and throughout the Caribbean.

Representatives from the Institute of the Motor Industry will also take the opportunity to meet with local automotive dealership groups and other owners within the automotive repair industry within Grand Cayman to discuss and present the benefits of using the IMI and UCCI training programmes to develop technicians and potential managers for the future.

Further commitment needed

Laurenson is in the process of setting up various high level meetings involving the IMI to discuss bespoke courses for the Cayman Transport Department to assist training the government’s vehicle inspectors in accident investigation, fire investigation and general vehicle annual inspections.

He also hopes to set up additional meetings with the education and other relevant government departments to try and convince them to provide adequate support and funding for a modern apprenticeship programme, thus enabling the youth of Cayman to study toward a fully recognised trade skill such as a modern automotive light vehicle technician and a certified automotive engineering award.

The IMI is fully committed to supporting Laurenson and the government in Cayman to ensure that a modern automotive apprenticeship programme is a full success. Laurenson says he just hopes that he can summon the support locally from the decision makers to achieve this positive move forward in education and career development for the young people of the Cayman Islands.



Rear row, from left, Lloyd Garrison, Chris Thorburn, William Sanchez Vasquez, Lyndon Robert Nelson, Mick Atterbury (instructor), Nathaniel Wilsher, Shemaiah Grant, Owen Laurenson (adjunct professor), Marcus Huggins, Reuben Forbes and Corey Seymour. Front row from left, Ned Miller, Javier Medina, Zak Quappe