The first apprentices from a prison-based aftersales training initiative set up three years ago by Toyota GB are starting to look for employment after successful graduation.
Toyota dealers, looking to plug gaps in the skills shortages that afflict aftersales operations, have taken on two, and are encouraging other retailers to do the same.
The training programme, set up at Aylesbury young offenders' institute, a maximum security prison in Buckinghamshire, was designed to provide prisoners with skills that would help them find gainful employment when they left. Offenders, up to 24 years old, are trained to NVQ level in classes of around 14.
Gary Birney, Toyota GB personnel and training director, said: "We set up the scheme from a social responsibility perspective - 80% of re-offenders do so because they can't find work.
"We decided to help by giving them aftersales skills - however, we weren't expecting our dealers to take any on. The objective wasn't for us to find employees for our dealers, despite the problems with skills shortages."
Sewells Pay Guide, in association with the RMI, underlined the staff shortages affecting the motor industry in last year's review. It said that two in three dealerships had problems recruiting technicians and urged the industry to "wake up to the recruitment crisis".
Toyota invested "a couple of hundred thousand pounds" in the initiative, fully equipping the Aylesbury technical training centre and supplying old cars and diagnostic equipment.
Instructors were trained to Toyota's own standards, enabling them to offer a full NVQ training apprenticeship programme.
"The programme has been highly successful. It has been a fantastic motivator for the prisoners and they have been achieving tremendous results," said Mr Birney.
Consequently, Toyota spoke to several dealers who showed an interest in the initiative, and two have now employed staff.
One dealer said: "They have turned out to be excellent apprentices with technical skills that are second to none. "It is hard to attract people into this industry so this scheme fits nicely the gap in skills shortages."
Toyota GB's Japanese parent was initially concerned about possible negative publicity from training and employing young offenders, but the scheme is receiving widespread positive coverage, including a mention in the House of Commons.
The dealer added: "The apprentices' offences are quite severe and there is a worry that the public would be concerned about their past. But everyone deserves a second chance to return to the community - they've served their time."