Female perspective on IRTE Skills Challenge

The 2023 Skills Challenge’s DVSA inspection apprentice, and runner-up mechanical apprentice, explains why more females should enter the 2024 challenge

Fourth-year Arriva mechelec apprentice Hollie Smith was on holiday in Spain when she heard she had won not one but two prizes in the 2023 Skills Challenge; she was able to celebrate afterwards with a friend and a “really big margarita”.

That was after she had been shocked to receive word about her performance from her fellow apprentices, who did attend the awards celebration at the JLR Experience centre. “I didn’t enter to win, but just to get the experience and to help with my work – to develop my skills at work and for my exams.”

Speaking in late December immediately after they finished, Smith reported that not only did the annual competition of bus technicians organised by IRTE improve her general knowledge, it helped her specific knowledge, too. One of the practical tasks at the event at S&B Automotive Academy in Bristol was measuring backlash... which proved useful when the very same task turned up on her end point assessment!

On the day, Smith’s own nervousness before the tasks – which was increased by the fact that she was the only woman competing that day – melted away once she realised how familiar the tasks were.

Asked for her advice to other potential female entrants, she says: “Just do it. I know it’s scary. This is still quite a male-dominated industry, but when I first started my apprenticeship three years ago, I didn’t see women anywhere.

“Over my course, I have seen more women coming into this industry and the company, and I think, all right, we are branching out, this is good. I want more girls to compete, because [female winners] are inspiring not just to women, but to everyone.”

The fourth-year apprentice works out of Arriva’s Speke, Liverpool depot. Over her time, she has developed a specialism in electrical faults. About that, she says: “People say that it’s easy, and you don’t get dirty. That’s a big lie; you do. When I first started, the mechanical side was my strong point, but I don’t like to just stick at what I am good at; I want to learn, and that’s why I like to stay with electrical, because every day is new. There are new faults I’ve never seen, and it makes my brain work. I like to challenge myself and try to diagnose faults.”

However, she says that she gets the biggest feeling of accomplishment from MOT preparations, partly because they are holistic and involve mechanical and electrical systems working together. “I like being able to inspect and rectify faults up to the standard, and when the bus comes back passed, that feels like a great achievement, more than making a single repair like a brake disc. I make a whole bus roadworthy and then have it come back passed.”

With her exams behind her, Smith is not resting on her laurels; she remains keen to learn and continue her training with courses. “Any course would help me become a better asset to the company, and something to help me develop in skill and as a person. Eventually, once I have that experience and knowledge, I wouldn’t mind trying to go for a master technician level role. They get to face everything, and tend to be people fixing things that others can’t.”

To enter the 2024 IRTE Skills Challenge, visit

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