This industry needs to attract and retain apprentices. Doing so has proven to be one of the most enduring challenges that shop owners face.
While colleges across Canada continue to enrol hopeful youth in apprenticeship programs, it also loses candidates at an unacceptable rate.
No doubt you have stories about apprentices who, in your view, were not up to snuff.
Apprentices have stories about independent garages too.
Businesses that do not treat them well, that do not teach them, that only let them wash cars, sweep floors, be a car jockey, anything but actually working on vehicles.
With this in mind, Indie Garage presents three apprentices who are representative of the next generation of technicians, and, potentially, shop owners.
All three are currently at Centennial College in Toronto, Ont., arguably Canada’s largest program, but they could have come from anywhere.
These apprentices, and others like them, will be the ones to face the full impact of the coming technological changes.
That future excites them.
It’s the hope at Indie Garage that their stories will get you thinking about how you can attract and retain apprentices and turn them into tomorrow’s top-notch technicians.
It’s also the hope that some outside the industry will see themselves here and decide to make their future in this industry.
For more information on apprenticeships programs, grants and subsidies, visit the Canadian Apprenticeship forum at http://caf-fca.org/ or search for Motive Power Apprenticeship.
MICHAEL ACETO, 20, second year Motive Power Automotive Service Technician Apprentice
He went to an arts school initially, but his father was a mechanic and partner in a shop.
“He tried to get me to his shop to get me into the field. Starting at a young age I got to understand the working aspects. He also introduced me to a lot of drag racing so ever since I was a young kid my life has been around cars.
“It’s in the blood.”
Where he works
Aceto is cutting his teeth at Midway Automotive in Mississauga, Ont., the shop owned by his father Angelo and partner Domenic Fagan.
“During high school my father gave me the opportunity to try different things. When the time came, I started my apprenticeship and started to love it more and more each day. Getting to see different cars every day and to know that each car and person there is in a different situation.
“That aspect of surprise makes my life as a mechanic fun.”
“If you want it, you have to go out and get it. It’s not always going to come to you.
“Definitely go in with an open mind and be willing to learn and work as hard as possible. Your work ethic will always reflect on you. Be respectful, try your best, and ask questions. You won’t look stupid.
“It ‘s better that you ask than pretend because that car is going to go out on the street. Say something if you don’t understand. Ask to have it explained. “
“Your expectations are unreasonably high sometimes. What really helps me is when my father breaks things down. He would take me through the steps so I would thoroughly understand.
“So be willing to receive the questions and have some patience.”
Ownership is definitely on his radar.
“It would be nice if I could take it over and continue the family tradition, especially with what he has accomplished so far in establishing the business.
“My dad has told me that his owning the business has been tough at times and good at times, but he has always found a way to make a living and provide for the family.
“Being in automotive also opens up your mind and branches off into so many areas.
“It is quite fascinating how far technology has come to everyday cars and to self-driving cars very soon. It’s just another thing that will be cool to learn and to diagnose.
“It’ll be an interesting challenge.”
SHELLY O’LEARY, 26, third year Motive Power Automotive Service Technician Apprentice
“It took me a while to find a job as an apprentice. I actually worked at a bodyshop for a couple of months before the lead mechanic spoke to the owner and they took me on as an apprentice.
“There aren’t a whole lot of women in the trade, though I do know a few. We definitely need more, but it is becoming a lot more open for women. “
“I grew up around automotive. My dad was a construction worker but always worked on his own trucks and I always helped him. I’ve always had a passion for cars.
“My mom and my sister were vey positive about it but my dad had passed away by the time I went to trade school.
“My sister was debating on getting into a trade herself. It is a lot of work but it is nice to have a hands on job where you are constantly moving, constantly working, and constantly learning.”
Where she’s working
“I work at Baytowne Hyundai [Barrie, Ont.]which also has its own school. I’ve been to it for about a week and went for extra training, which helped a lot. The learning never stops which is really nice.
“It can be challenging sometimes, and even sometimes frustrating,” especially when diagnosing drivability issues she says, “but it is a rewarding job.”
“Stay focused and don’t worry about doing things super fast. And definitely pick a good school. There are block-release and day-release programs.
“Personally I like day-release. You still get to make money as you are going to school but at the same time the shop doesn’t have to lose a person for a couple of months at a time.”
“As an apprentice you want to learn as much as you can as quickly as you can.
“Give apprentices the opportunity, even buddying them up with a licensed mechanic. It helps the mechanic get the job done and you’re teaching your future investment at the same time. You want your apprentices to know what they’re doing when they’re licensed.
“It’s a win-win situation.”
She is ready to embrace the new technology.
“It is already staring. We already have lane departure warning systems and I’ve worked on a blind spot detection unit. It is becoming a lot more advanced and I like it. It’s a lot of fun.”
She feels she’s found a home at the dealership.
“It’s nice to work for good people and that’s the main thing for me. It’s great to be in a happy environment.”
ANDREW COPELAND, 18, is a first year Motive Power Automotive Service Technician Apprentice.
“I was originally looking at construction, but the auto trade was a last gasp and it turns out I really love it.
“I love working with my hands and the fact that it’s something new every single day, it’s not the same thing like in electrical where you’re just running wires every day.
“It’s a new puzzle every day.”
“My folks were skeptical at first, I come from a white collar family, but once they realized my interest they were very supportive. My mum actually helped me quite a bit to figure out how the schooling worked. “
Where he’s working:
He’s currently signed on at One Stop Muffler and Brake in New market, Ont., and says that the feedback he gets is that he’s doing well.
“The more experienced techs are there, but we only have three techs and myself so I’m normally working on my own.
“Sometimes it’s harder to get through stuff. I had to do a starter for the first time, so I had to figure it out on my own. It took an extra 10 minutes, but it worked in the end. Happily,” he says we a nervous laugh.
“ I’ve heard horror stories about other shops, but I get treated very well. “
Copeland reminds shop owners to understand how green new apprentices can be, but that they’re willing to learn.
“Depending on where they are coming from, some apprentices may already have experience, but as new apprentices we have no idea what is going on half the time. We really need your help.
“My boss explained a lot and helped me a lot, so I could sort it out, but for the first couple of weeks we have no idea what’s going on.”
“Make sure you find a place that you’re not going to be stuck doing oil changes and detailing for the first two years. Find a place that’s going to teach you. I got really lucky. My teacher from high school knew the owner.
“Show your teacher that you care and don’t treat it like a bird course. There were some in my class who were interested but didn’t treat it seriously. And the teacher didn’t recommend them when it came time to look for placements.
“The shop owners actually talk to the teachers. “
About the future:
“I fully intend to make this my career. I did look at owning or buying a shop in the future. Or teaching.
“But I still have a long ways to go and I am really looking forward to it.”
Special thanks to Mark Toljagic and staff at Centennial College for their assistance with this article. Visit www.centennialcollege.ca for more information on the college’s programs.