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If you haven’t already heard of Auto22 in Gravesend, you could do in the near future as the garage is planning to grow across the UK and become a nationwide network.

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But this isn’t any company rollout as Auto22, in Dering Way, is a garage with a difference – it is a social enterprise.

Behind the scenes is an initiative to give young people a step up on the career ladder via an apprenticeship.

It is run by national charity Catch22 who seek to help teenagers who may have been excluded from school, are finding it hard to get work or have learning difficulties.

During one year, the apprentice learns from experienced, fully qualified technicians while getting used to a work environment and when they leave they are supported in moving on to another garage, with a new trainee taking their place.

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George Burman has been at Auto22 since January after completing a level one motor vehicle qualification at Catch 22’s skills centre next door to the garage.

George didn’t do well at school and had not known what to focus on afterwards, but the teachers at the skills centre were so impressed with him that they offered the 18-year-old the one-year apprenticeship at Auto22.

“When they gave me this apprenticeship I took it straight away,” he said. “I’m pretty confident now I want to do this as a career. I’ve loved it since I started.”

George is learning the ropes from 34-year-old Darren Irons, who was an apprentice himself almost 20 years ago.

He has been with Auto22 since it started from scratch two years ago after he applied to a job advert that described a role that gives something back.

“It is better than working in conventional garage because you are putting something back into the motor industry,” he said. “It does take a bit longer to do a job but there’s not as much pressure as a bigger garage. It’s really enjoyable.”

Auto22 has another apprentice, Lauren, who is working alongside marketing manager Jayne Webb and the company is about to take on two more apprentices.

Jayne explained that Auto22 exists not to make investors rich but to give young people a chance in the jobs market.

“All our profits are invested in providing additional work programmes. It gets invested in areas for young people to work in and is used to get more technicians for training young people,” she said.

Auto22 is still in its early days but it will soon launch two more garages in Kent and has hopes for 150 more within five years. From a small garage in a Gravesend business park to a UK-wide industry model, Auto22 is changing the shape of the car servicing sector.

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