MOTHER-of-three Penny Brown is enjoying carving out a new career as a mechanic after embarking on an apprenticeship with a city garage.
When planning her return to work after her youngest children started school, the 28-year-old was keen to pursue her interest in cars while learning new skills. Undaunted by the low number of women working in the industry, she successfully applied for a trainee's position with Meca Services on the Sowton Industrial Estate.
Penny now spends one day a week training at Exeter College's new technology centre and the rest of the week learning on the job under the guidance of her new colleagues.
She explained that she began looking into apprenticeships after completing courses in English and maths at the college in preparation for a return to the workplace.
"I have always been interested in cars, and since I passed my driving test four years ago I have wanted to find out more and more about them," said Penny, who lives in Beacon Heath.
As well as being the oldest apprentice, Penny is the only female mechanic on her course but has no qualms about joining what is still a male-dominated profession.
"It doesn't really bother me because I have three older brothers so I have grown up around boys and their friends," she said. "Everyone here and at the college has been really supportive and friendly.
"If anyone wants to do something like this they should definitely go for it because I'm really enjoying it."
Garage owner Jennifer Riach said: "I have had an apprentice previously and ever since I took over the garage I have wanted to take on an apprentice who we could train our way with a view to them hopefully qualifying and continuing to work here, in a succession planning way.
"When our last apprentice left I started to look at new candidates. I invited Penny for an interview because she was the strongest candidate on paper and she shone, so I made the decision immediately.
"She is slightly older than the other candidates, and because she has done the family thing first she has that life experience and her more mature approach to the job has convinced me my decision was the right one.
"Normally when I have a new member of staff I'm quite keen to keep a close eye on how things are going, but before I even had a chance to ask the others how Penny was getting on our lead mechanic Paul Dye told me he was really pleased with her first few days."
Jennifer said Exeter College and the National Apprenticeship Service had been very supportive during the recruitment process. She hopes other employers will offer apprenticeship placements to young people seeking career opportunities.
"It's heartbreaking when you hear about apprentices who have signed up to start their training and can't find a placement, so the college is the best place to see who is available," she said. "That could be a new apprentice starting out for the first time or someone halfway through their training who has lost their placement because the business has closed."