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Turing Scheme placement leads to dream job on sunshine island for former York College learner

Teenager spends seven months working in Aruba as the first ever female mechanic at local garage, and now wants to go back again.
Jessica Rooke with her colleagues at De Palm Tours in Aruba

A two-week Turing Scheme work placement in Aruba led to a dream job for former York College and University Centre student Jessica Rooke.

Just weeks after finishing her light vehicle and maintenance repair course, Jessica was jetting back to the sunshine island to take up a role as the first ever female mechanic at De Palm Tours.

The 18-year-old has just returned from a seven-month stint working in the Caribbean, where she helped repair buses, jeeps and buggies used by tourists.

She and a group of other York College students had previously spent two weeks with the same company during a work experience visit facilitated by Yorkshire-based not-for-profit organisation Everything Is Possible and funded by the Turing Scheme.

When the opportunity arose to go back after completing her Level 3 diploma studies, Jessica jumped at the chance and would like to return to live and work in Aruba for longer.

“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?’,” she 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.

“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.”

Jessica’s duties 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 at college.

Fixing real-life problems

“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.”

Jessica also left the Caribbean equipped with new life skills and having fully immersed herself in the local culture. Taking part in a carnival parade with her new friends was a personal highlight and Jessica added: “You are also always five minutes away from a beach in Aruba and I went jet-skiing.

“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.”

Jessica’s interest in vehicle maintenance comes from helping at her father Richard’s trucking business in Tadcaster.

“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.

“So, I came to college and started a business course but, after a month, 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.”

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.”


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