MANY apprentices learn about making things, but Perry Bignell is learning how to smash things up... at speed.

He works in the High G safety department at Ford’s Dunton plant, known to the public, more bluntly, as “the crash site”. Ford, understandably, prefers the High G title.

Yet crashing is the name of the game.

Perry can spend up to half a day adjusting the intricate calibrations of crash test dummies to mimic a live human body in a car seat.

At other times, he uses his fitting skills to fix a door frame, after one of the dummies has hit it. In between comes the whoosh and the bang as the test rig hurtles into action.

When Perry says “I enjoy my work”, you have to believe him.

Perry, 18, is in the fourth year of a mechanical engineering apprenticeship, at Ford’s research plant, one of 79 apprentices on the Dunton scheme.

While other companies rediscover the virtues of apprenticeships, Ford has never ceased to place its faith in the system.

Bill Ellison, manager of the development and emissions laboratory where Perry works, says: “They are an absolutely essential part of the Ford Motor Company.

“They ensure an adequate flow of skills from one generation to the next.”

Perry joined the apprenticeship scheme after completing GCSEs, at Hall Mead School, Upminster.

He says: “A lot of my friends went on to university to do subjects like politics and law and economics. But that didn’t really appeal to me.

“Since my early days, I’ve always done practical things.”

Three years later, he says he has “absolutely no regrets” about following the apprentice route. In any case, university still remains an option for the teenager.

Perry explains: “You can follow the apprenticeship up with degrees, masters degrees, take it however far you want to go, while still working.”

Bill chips in that some directors of Ford started out as apprentices.

Ford apprentices earn £11,000 a year and move up a pay grade every time they pass a qualification level.

While their friends at university struggle with tuition fees and debt, the cost of training for Ford’s apprentices is entirely covered by the company.

Andy Johnson, apprentice co-ordinator, says: “They’re being paid what a lot of university students pay out in just a year.”

Andy also stresses the continuity of the apprenticeship scheme.

He says: “I started out as an apprentice in 1980. I’ve done quite a range of jobs within Ford since then, but it’s nice to be back in that environment.

“Now I’m working all over again with guys who taught me, and are still teaching the latest generation of apprentices.”

If the scheme works well for the apprentices, it also undoubtedly benefits Ford as well.

Bill says: “Within two-and-a-half years, they have become productive members of the team.”

At the end of their four-year stint, Ford apprentices gain a level three NVQ in mechanical engineering. By that stage, most of them have already acquired something else that will last them a lifetime – membership of the legendary “Ford family”.

Ford of Britain celebrates its centenary this year. Andy says: “Dunton is full of the children and grandchildren of those who worked for the company.”

Perry, whose grandfather worked at Ford’s Dagenham plant, is a case in point.

Andy says: “It is a rare thing for a Ford apprentice to leave. Today’s apprentice is tomorrow’s trainer of apprentices. It’s all about sustainability. Human sustainability.”

The Echo is running a campaign with South Essex College to get 100 apprentices into work in 100 days.

Businesses looking for apprentices can visit www.facebook/100in100 for more information.

Alternatively, businesses and potential apprentices can call the college on 0845 5212345 or e-mail