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College student Jessica becomes garage's first female mechanic on Caribbean island of Aruba

Light Vehicle and Maintenance Repair student Jessica Rooke became the first-ever female mechanic at a garage on the Caribbean island of Aruba just weeks after leaving York College & University Centre.

Jessica, 18, has just returned from a seven-month stint working in Aruba, where she helped repair buses, jeeps and buggies used by tourists.

She and a group of other College students had previously spent two weeks with the same company – De Palm Tours – during a visit, organised by Yorkshire-based not-for-profit organisation Everything Is Possible and co-funded by the UK Government’s Turing Scheme.

When the opportunity arose to go back after completing her Level 3 diploma studies, Jessica then jumped at the chance and would now like to live and work there for an even longer period!

“I thought returning to Aruba would be a good chance to learn more skills and the country and weather are nice, too, so I thought ‘why not try it?’," Jessica explained. “Originally, the plan was that I’d only be out there until December, but I loved it and asked if I could extend my stay and I feel proud that I pushed myself to do it.

“On the morning that I was going out there, I can remember all the things that were going through my head because I flew from Leeds-Bradford all by myself and, at first, I wondered whether I would miss home but, after the first couple of weeks, I settled in and all the guys that I worked with were lovely.

“I was the first-ever female mechanic at the garage and there is always a fear that, being a girl in a male-dominated environment, you’re going to get comments and questioned, but everyone was so welcoming and, if I needed help, they helped me.

“They feel like my big brothers now. They made me feel like part of a family and I learned so much more than I ever thought I would from them, whilst having a laugh at the same time.

“I’d never considered working abroad. I’ve just been to a couple of European countries before and America once but, now, I’d love to go and live over there in Aruba – 100 per cent.”

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Jessica worked Monday to Friday from 8am to 5pm or 2pm to 10pm with her duties including servicing, changing tyres, fixing suspension issues and fitting bus windows – all invaluable experience, which she believes has further enhanced her professional knowledge and built on the skills she acquired during her College course.

“I was working on a lot of buses, jeeps and UTVs, like golf buggies,” she explained. “It was mainly tourists that were using them, so the jeeps and UTVs had been used off-road and there was a lot of suspension, wheel bearing and tyre work.

“I did a few days in the bodyshop as well and helped fit a bus window, which is completely different to what I’d done before. I was constantly mentored and you definitely learn more working alongside other people.

“We did a lot of practical work on the course at College but, understandably, you need to do theory as well. My work in Aruba, though, was practical every day.

“I was seeing real-life problems and having to fix them. College creates faults for us to fix but, in Aruba, I was dealing with real faults.

“There were a lot of similarities between what I was taught at College to what I learned in Aruba, but they did do somethings a bit different and it was nice to see those different ways. Every mechanic has their own way to fix something and solve problems and I’ll probably find my own way eventually.

“I came to College with no knowledge, but I relied on the basic understanding the course has given me in Aruba and now that knowledge has grown.”

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Jessica also left the Caribbean equipped with new life skills and having fully immersed herself into the local culture.

Her favourite regional delicacy was Pastechi – a traditional pastry-based Aruban snack, which she enjoyed best filled with cheese or chicken.

Taking part in a Carnival parade with her new friends, meanwhile, was a personal highlight and Jessica added: “You are also always five minutes away from a beach in Aruba and I went jet-skiing.

“The nightlife was good too and I loved every moment really. I was living in a house with other volunteers from different countries, but we were all coming and going all the time, because we weren’t working at the same places, so I became more independent.

“I had to cook, clean, do my washing and go shopping all by myself and it helped me grow up so much. They eat so much rice out there, but I can’t cook rice. It’s hard to get right!

“I think Sweet and Sour Chicken Noodles became my speciality and I’m a better problem solver now in the workplace and outside of it.”

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Taking part in a Carnival parade was one of the biggest highlights of Jessica's time in Aruba outside of the workplace
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Jessica’s interest in vehicle maintenance originates from helping out at her father’s trucking business – Richard Rooke Limited in Tadcaster – although she initially enrolled on a different course in College, before decided to switch to one that was more suited to her interests and favoured methods of learning.

“Having grown up with my dad’s business, I’ve always wanted to be a truck driver and, when I left school at 16, I wasn’t sure what to do until I was 18,” she said. “I did my fork-lift licence at 16 and tried to get a job in a warehouse but, with me being under 18, nobody would have me and they wanted people with experience, which I obviously didn’t have.

“So, I came to College and started a business course but, after a month, I gave it up because I was sat down listening too much and I prefer to be doing something practical. I decided to change to the Level 2 Motor Vehicle course having heard about it just by being in College.

“I loved it, so came back for my Level 3 and I definitely made the right choice. There were two other females on the course, and you’re treated the same as the male students, which is nice.

“The teaching is a really good quality, too. Every tutor has a different way of doing things and you can access all of that, as well as getting to work on all the diagnostic equipment, because the standard of the facilities is high as well.”

Jessica is still considering a truck driving career but, despite having gained her licence, might have to wait until the age of 25 before she finds a willing insurer.

Instead, since returning to the UK, she has been carrying out maintenance work at her father’s yard but admitted: “I’d love to go back out to Aruba.

“I don’t think I’d go for the rest of my life, but I’d definitely like to spend four or five years out there. The people, weather and everything else is so nice and I feel like my time out there isn’t done yet. Moving back is a hard process, though, especially with us leaving the EU.”

For more information on our Light Vehicle and Maintenance Repair course, please click here

To learn more about our full course provision while meeting tutors, please consider attending our next Open Event on Wednesday 19th June from 5.30pm to 7.30pm.

You can register a place by clicking here