A United Kingdom-wide initiative to bring skilled young people into the retail motor industry, by giving school pupils the chance to study a technical discipline, has been launched to combat a major skills crisis.

A brand new pre-apprenticeship qualification, available on the National Framework and aimed at 14-16 year olds, will be awarded exclusively by the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI), which is the motor industry specific awarding body. The pre-apprenticeship covers light vehicle maintenance, body repair and vehicle refinishing. This initiative, says the IMI, is designed to attract high calibre students into the motor industry as a preferred career option, leading to the completion of a Modern Apprenticeship. A current shortfall of over 15,000 apprentices, an ageing workforce (20% of technicians are over 45, high levels of staff turnover (18% per annum on average), insufficient investment in employer training and massive technological advances in vehicles have all contributed to the worst ever skills shortage faced by the automotive sector.

Carrying funding from the Department for Education and Skills, the new IMI Awards form the basis of new 'Technical Certificates', which are a mandatory part of a Modern Apprenticeship. Pupils can opt out of certain National Curriculum subjects in favour of studying a vocational discipline and it is anticipated that the pre-apprenticeship will be studied alongside a GCSE that is technology based, such as engineering or design. This would enable the development of rounded technological skills.

The IMI, which has a network of over 200 approved training centres nation-wide, claims that colleges of further education, struggling to recruit candidates on motor vehicle courses, will benefit from local 'feeder schools', which will give pupils supervised access to workshops and equipment.

IMI chief executive Sarah Sillars said: "This unique programme will enable pupils to get a taste of the motor industry in their formative years and give them a fast-track to becoming fully skilled. Over time, with closer links between schools and colleges, more positive perceptions of the motor industry will develop in the education system and, in the long term, the industry's skills pool will be replenished. Successful students starting now could well be running their own business by their late twenties."