As a teenager, hands-on Alex Fife had always dreamed of forging a career in the engineering industry.

As a teenager, hands-on Alex Fife had always dreamed of forging a career in the engineering industry.

He caught the bug from his father Grahame, who spent more than two decades as a vehicle quality engineer.

The 23-year-old Gateshead College student said: “I’ve always been interested in how things work and how they are put together. I guess I’ve been influenced to a certain extent by my dad, who has a similar mind-set about these things.

“I did well in practical subjects at school and I went on to do a BTEC in Engineering at sixth form. I never really wanted to go to university but I knew I needed extra training to get my foot on the career ladder.”

In September 2009 Alex got his big chance when he enrolled on a five-year Trainee Maintenance Technician apprenticeship at Nissan Sunderland Plant, run by Gateshead College and NAC Group. The scheme combines theoretical and practical skills, giving successful applicants the chance to work towards nationally recognised qualifications through on-the-job and academic training, while earning a competitive salary.

The first year is spent completing off-the-job-training with Gateshead College. The remaining four years are spent in the plant with day release at college.

It’s a formula that works for Alex, who in his day job carries out electrical and mechanical work on machinery that’s vital to the production of Nissan vehicles. His work involves facility improvements, software improvements and maintenance work aimed at reducing the chance of equipment faults. 

Currently working towards a HNC Level 4 in Engineering Maintenance, he has already gained other nationally recognised qualifications as part of his apprenticeship. These include an NVQ Level 2 in Performing Engineering Operations, an NVQ Level 3 in Engineered Systems and an Extended Diploma in Engineering (Level 3).

Alex, who originally hails from Washington but now lives in South Shields, said: “Apprenticeships give you the chance to study for qualifications that are valued by employers – and you earn a wage at the same time. I really would recommend them to any young person who is not sure which career option to take.”

Nissan’s Sunderland plant is currently the UK’s largest car assembly facility, employing around 7,000 people. It produced more than 500,000 cars last year – smashing through the half a million mark for the second year in a row.

The company has been a firm supporter of apprenticeships since it started running them in 1986. Since then more than 1,000 apprentices in different disciplines have plied their trade at Nissan. Alex is one of 118 people currently on the company’s Trainee Maintenance Technician scheme and all of them are students at Gateshead College.

Steve Pallas, training manager at Nissan, said:“Nissan produces more than one in three cars built in the UK and we need a strong team of maintenance technicians behind us to ensure that we maintain our record-breaking levels of performance.

“Gateshead College has been a vital partner in teaching our apprentices the skills they need, not only to make the grade at Nissan but to succeed in the job once they’ve completed their training.

“Alex has made an excellent impression on the business since he came here. He is just one of many great examples of how apprenticeships really can work for businesses.”

For further information on Gateshead College apprenticeships, call 0191 490 4636 or e-mail or visit

For more information on Nissan’s maintenance technician traineeship, visit