We speak to Emma about her path to success and how crash testing toy trains in the sixth-form led to her doing the same with literally hundreds of real-life Jaguars and Land Rovers.
In a survey conducted by Bloomberg in 2016, JLR topped the poll of the best places to work in the UK. This overall employee satisfaction reflects on how well the UK’s biggest carmaker identifies and nurtures talent - and this is best embodied by JLR’s award-winning apprenticeship programmes, which currently attract over 5,000 applicants every year.
As an indication of the calibre of those training through JLR, Emma Wilding - a degree apprentice working within the firm’s vehicle safety department - was recently nominated for the prestigious Institute of Engineers (IET) Young Woman Engineer of the Year Award. We caught up with Emma to find out what drew her to becoming a JLR apprentice and what’s involved in her intriguing and fascinating job…
You undertook a work placement at JLR aged just 14, did this experience forge your ambition to work for the company?
I knew I wanted to do something within engineering but, with engineering being such a broad subject, I didn’t really know which area I wanted to go into. So, when I did my work experience at JLR, I was given a really good overview of the company and it opened my eyes to all the possibilities.
What made you choose an apprenticeship over university?
The times that I did really well academically, were the times when there was a practical element to the work on which I could get hands-on. It just helped cement everything for me. Plus, the year that I was coming up to go university, was the year the Government introduced the £9,000 tuition fees. So, the idea that I could work while studying [for a degree] was a big draw for me.
Did you always want to go into crash testing?
When I started the apprenticeship, I had no idea of what I wanted to do, but just before I was offered the scheme, I did a summer course with the Smallpiece Trust in Railway Systems Engineering. One of the tasks that I had to complete during the course was to create a model train and basically crash test it – and I really enjoyed it. When I started in JLR, I saw that one of the available positions was within the vehicle safety department. I remembered how much fun I’d had and how interesting I had found this area. Now I look at what I do and I love my job.
When a new model is about to be launched, how many cars do you actually crash?
We crash test around 60 to 70 vehicles per launch. Then you have all the model year updates, which are crash tested as well. We have generic crash plans to cover all the testing required for domestic and global markets. Different markets have different requirements.
What do you find the most rewarding part of your job?
The rewarding thing for me is when I go out on the road and I see a vehicle I’ve worked on. For me it’s also about seeing the customers’ excitement about the products we produce.
The IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards was set up to inspire young women to consider a career in engineering. From your experience at JLR, how would you encourage young women to think about a similar path to you?
I think what a lot of people don’t realise is how broad engineering can be. I’ve been into schools and have spoken to girls who are in year eight and nine. I’ll ask what they think engineering is – and they generally think it’s getting greasy and oily under a car like a mechanic. I think people need to realise there are many different opportunities in engineering.
What do you plan to do when you finish your apprenticeship?
I would like to stay at JLR and progress through the company and I’d like to continue working in vehicle safety. I’m also hoping to work towards my chartered engineer status.
Of all the vehicles you've crash tested, which one would you most like to own?
It would depend on what I was going to do with the car. I would absolutely love a Land Rover Defender, but they’re no longer in production. So, maybe I’d lean towards the new Discovery. I also really like the Jaguar F-PACE. To be honest, I don’t really know because they’re all such amazing cars.
Photos courtesy of IET