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Developing a global engineering skill set by getting hands-on as you earn while you learn – Robyn Clarke, Trainee Quality Assurance Engineer at Toyota Manufacturing UK

Andy-Smith-and-Robyn-Clarke---Toyota Manufacturing UK

Robyn Clarke joined Toyota Manufacturing UK in September 2011, training as a maintenance apprentice whilst taking part in the Advanced Apprenticeship Scheme until September 2015. Following on from her apprenticeship, Robyn went on to study for a Higher National Certificate (HNC) in engineering (run in-house at Toyota). Robyn progressed to the role of trainee Quality Assurance Engineer in September 2016 and is currently studying for a Degree Apprenticeship alongside her work at Toyota’s engine plant in Deeside, North Wales.

Robyn Clarke - Toyota Manufacturing UK
Robyn Clarke

“…Women are treated fairly and with respect in the workplace, and any initiatives are available to all employees, regardless of gender…” 

Getting multi-skilled on an apprenticeship

After completion of my A-levels I looked at different options available to me and I wasn’t a hundred percent sure what career I wanted, so therefore I decided against university at this point as I did not want to take on student loans for a degree that I was not passionate about.

I chose engineering with no previous engineering experience based on the fact that I enjoyed hands-on learning and always excelled in the logical subjects at school, engineering sounded like a new and interesting subject to study.

I joined Toyota Manufacturing UK (TMUK) in September 2011 on a multi-skilled Maintenance Engineering apprenticeship. On the completion of my four-year apprenticeship I was awarded an NVQ Level 2 and 3 in Maintenance Engineering. I covered topics such as machining, welding, electrical wiring, and software programming during the apprenticeship.

As I completed my Level 3 apprenticeship I was given the opportunity to study for a Level 4 HNC (Higher National Certificate) in General Engineering, which I completed in 2015. I am now a pioneer for the new Toyota undergraduate programme. As a higher apprentice, I am currently studying towards a B.Eng. Hons Degree in Manufacturing Engineering and an NVQ Level 4 in General Engineering, as well as undertaking my day to day role as a Quality Assurance engineer.

My role

As a Quality Assurance Engineer I am responsible for maintaining quality on the engine assembly line at Toyota Manufacturing UK – Deeside, this involves responding to day to day concerns and supporting quality activity on the factory floor. I also provide out of house quality support for several suppliers across Europe.

In this role I support suppliers with their quality concerns and help to improve their processes and quality control. Another aspect of my role is ensuring compliance with internal and external quality regulation.

Advantages of choosing an apprenticeship route

Although I appreciate that an apprenticeship isn’t for everyone I am a big supporter of apprenticeships as a route into employment. I believe that there are many benefits to apprenticeships including:

  • The opportunity to gain qualifications through a more practical learning approach.
  • Gaining on the job experience as you complete your qualifications. Most apprentices will complete their apprenticeship with a high level of skill and competence in their job role.
  • Earning as you learn.
  • Apprenticeships cover a really broad spectrum of subjects (cooking, jewellery making, engineering, construction, gardening, beauty therapy, media, HR etc.) so there is an apprenticeship out there for most people.
  • Apprenticeships can offer a wide range of qualifications from NVQs all the way up to degree level so again they are suitable to a large audience.

WorldSkills competition

Andy-Smith-and-Robyn-Clarke of Toyota Manufacturing UK with their Medallions of Excellence from World-Skills
Robyn with her colleague, Andy Smith, wearing their Medallions of Excellence from WorldSkills

The WorldSkills competition is a bi-annual global competition. It is the biggest vocational skills competition in the world where people aged 18-25 from all continents compete over four days in different skill areas (engineering, construction, service sector, IT, the creative sector etc.). I competed in Brazil in 2015 and the most recent competition was held in Abu-Dhabi (2017).

The competition I competed in was the mechatronics competition. This involved building, wiring and programming a small production line to a given specification.

Taking part in these competitions not only improved my engineering capability but also taught me many transferable skills. Working effectively as a team under high pressure, managing time, staying committed (training for the competition was 18 months in total!). I also gained many communication skills through the public speaking events that I attended throughout the competition.

I’m incredibly proud to say my team brought home a Medallion of Excellence! 

Diversity initiatives at Toyota

The biggest challenge Toyota faces as a manufacturing facility is simply attracting women into engineering – Toyota Manufacturing UK is working with local schools to engage pupils from an early age in STEM subjects and ensures a 50/50 male/female pupil split on all programmes.

Women are treated fairly and with respect in the workplace, and any initiatives are available to all employees, regardless of gender. There is the option of flexible working and an onsite nursery at the vehicle factory in Burnaston, two key features which may be attractive to work at Toyota to women and men alike.

Advice to girls and women interested in engineering careers

My advice to girls and women who are interested in careers in engineering but are unsure of where to start is: Do your research. There are many different types of engineering – it is a very diverse topic, so get some idea about what type of engineering you think you are interested in.

Try to visit careers fairs and get to talk to people within the industry to have a better understanding of the career. Many businesses will run career events. Visit other national careers events such as the skills show, these events will give you the opportunity to meet many different employers and will often have interactive activities so that you can have a go at different aspects of engineering.

Coming up next

Currently, I am undertaking a higher apprenticeship, I have just completed the first year of my engineering degree and I am also working towards my NVQ Level 4.

My hopes for the future are to successfully complete my higher apprenticeship and become a fully trained Quality Assurance engineer. I also hope to stay involved in supporting events to encourage more young people into engineering.