You wouldn't usually expect to find an ex-top model contestant working on cars at your local garage, but that is what you'll find if you visit Moerewa Motors in Northland.
Sonya King was a contestant in season two of New Zealand's Next Top Model, until illness forced her to exit the competition early. Deciding she wanted to do something practical and where there would always be a demand for work, she enrolled in an automotive engineering course and is now completing an apprenticeship under the guidance of her employer Joe Tipene.
"It was really important to me to be able to work in my home town of Moerewa. I tried living in the city but it just wasn't for me, so I'm happy that Joe decided to take me on. Being a female mechanic can be challenging at times, some people aren't too happy with a girl working on their car, but others have been great", says Sonya.
Sonya's talents for the trade have not gone unnoticed. Tipene suggested that she should enter the 2012 MTA Apprentice of the Year competition. The competition, which is run by the Motor Trade Association (MTA), aims to reward the skills of talented apprentices and opens up a range of opportunities for those who are serious about their future. It also recognises employers who are investing in the skills of the automotive industry.
Sonya is the first and only female apprentice to enter the competition this year. She decided to enter the competition as a chance to improve herself and so she can say that she gave it a go.
"I really like taking on a challenge, I love new experiences as they are doors to other opportunities in the future. I really enjoy figuring out how to make things work and trying to help others, even if it's just fixing their car", she says.
In her spare time she enjoys boxing, and has won several bouts – one for each competition she has entered. She is also a keen horse rider – who one day hopes to train horses.
Tipene believes she will be hard to beat. "Sonya is very competitive and determined. She told me that if she is going to enter the competition, she wants to win it – she doesn't want to come second. I really want her to go for it because if you set her a goal, she will go all out to get it," says Tipene.
The winner of this year's competition will get to work as part of the Greg Murphy Racing Team in Sydney, receive a $3,500 cash prize, potential study grant from MITO, and much more. There is also a big prize package for the winner's employer. Runners up also receive tickets to an All Blacks test in Wellington, a gaming console, $500 Telecom voucher, and a trade tools package.
MTA encourage automotive apprentices from all sectors of the industry to take on the challenge and join Sonya to compete for the Apprentice of the Year title.
Entries close on Monday, 30 July. The MTA Apprentice of the Year competition is run with assistance from Telecom, MITO, Weltec, Repco, and Apparelmaster. For more information about the competition and to enter, visit www.mta.org.nz/apprenticechallenge.