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

Tadcaster teenager Jessica Rooke has become the first-ever female mechanic employed by a garage on the Caribbean island of Aruba.

Jessica landed the job with De Palm Tours just weeks after completing her Light Vehicle and Maintenance Repair course with York College and has just returned to the UK after spending seven months working at the popular holiday destination.

She had previously visited Aruba with a group of fellow College students for a fortnight-long work project, organised by Yorkshire-based, not-for-profit organisation Everything is Possible and co-funded by the UK Government’s Turing Scheme.

And, having achieved her significant gender landmark, Jessica was made to feel so welcome that she is hoping to travel back across the Atlantic Ocean sometime soon to resume her work on the island’s jeeps, buggies and buses.

“Originally, the plan was that I’d only be out there for four months, but I loved it and asked if I could extend my stay,” Jessica enthused. “I was the first-ever female mechanic at the garage and there’s 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.

“They made me feel like part of a family and are like my big brothers now. I learned so much more than I ever thought I would from them.

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

“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.”

Jessica’s duties in Aruba included 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.

“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.

“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.”

Taking part in a Carnival parade was one of the biggest highlights of Jessica's time in Aruba outside of the workplace

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 pasty-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 always five minutes away from a beach in Aruba and I did new stuff like jet-skiing.

“The nightlife was good too and I loved every moment. 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.”

For more information on York College & University Centre’s Light Vehicle and Maintenance Repair course, please click here

To learn more about the college’s full course provision while meeting tutors, their next Open Event is on Wednesday 19th June from 5.30pm to 7.30pm.

You can register a place by clicking here