Think apprenticing isn’t worth the time or money it takes to earn your certification? Owners: think investing in apprentices to work in your shop is too much trouble?
Consider the story of Azilda, Ontario-based Zack Kaattari, who in a few short years went from first enrolling as an apprentice to owning his own successful shop, Rayside Auto Clinic.
After high school, without a clear idea of what he wanted to do with his life, Zack enrolled in a post-secondary hydro power line tech program, but was soon disenchanted. “Once I started climbing poles out in the cold, working at night, I realized it wasn’t for me. I would come home at night and complain to my friends at the time. Finally one of them said, ‘You work on your car every night after work. Why don’t you enroll in automotive training?’”
He went on to study at Cambrian College, but after a year he realized that hands-on training would be at least as valuable as classroom training, and set out to find work while he continued his studies. But after a rigorous job search, he had few takers. Then by chance, the local Azilda shop owners, Bruno Bertrand and Arthur Zinger of Rayside Auto Clinic, agreed to interview him.
“Bruno’s first question was, where do you see yourself in five years? And I said, I want to own my own shop. And he said, that’s perfect, since I want to retire in five years!” (Actually, he adds, it took six.)
Bertrand and Zinger started him slow, to see if the young man was serious, putting him on sweeping and cleanup duty for the first few weeks. But his ambition and work ethic were clear, and before long, the shop owners offered him the chance at an apprenticeship. “But Bruno said, if you truly want to be an apprentice, you have to do all the paperwork yourself.”
Kaattari contacted the local Ontario Apprenticeship Program coordinator, and began the process. It turned out to be a longer odyssey than he expected: he moved to Ottawa for two years of advanced class training and apprenticeship, till he eventually earned his 3-10-S certification.
“Meanwhile, Bruno kept texting me, saying, what’s it gonna take to get you to come back?” Kaattari had started to settle down in Ottawa, with a good job and friends there, but eventually he decided to return and rejoin his old mentors at Rayside. He gradually began buying shares in the company, till by January 2013 he bought the owners out. Bruno stayed on till the end of December 2017, and then officially handed over the keys to the shop, and Kaattari became co-owner with Zinger.
Today, Rayside Auto Clinic is thriving; he recently added a used car dealership, and is looking to take his hands off the tools and have others fix the cars. And he’s paying it forward: he’s looking to hire a new apprentice.
“I get resumes in occasionally, but here in Azilda, everybody knows everybody, and you’re looking after extended family in a way. So, I don’t want to hire just anybody. I’m looking for someone who’s just like I was – maybe a little wet behind the ears, but willing to work hard.”
Apprenticeship is essential to modern-day automotive repair, he firmly believes. “Automotive is much too complicated a trade to learn in two years of school. And everything has changed so much in the last ten years that even the profs won’t know the latest technology unless they retrain. And even then, you can do training all day long and it’s still not the same as actually working on the cars: the daily driver, the mom minivan.
“I’d like to go into high schools and say to the kids, how many times have you had an opportunity to be paid while you learn, and end up with a well-paid career at the end? Not enough students realize that this is a very good career path.”
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