Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2006   by Clara Hooper

A good life for us … and our children

Chilliwack, B.C.'s Clara Hooper on the apprentice shortage and a program that's filling the void in British Columbia

Let’s face it; there is an “old school” idea that “trades” are for those unable to participate in college or university. It seems that some of those from all generations still believe that a ‘trade’s person’ is a lower class, under educated individual. Those of us in the trades know otherwise. The dilemma that we are faced with is how to change this opinion. Many educated persons encourage their way of life. As a parent, you want a ‘good’ life for your child and if you are educated, of course this is what you would pass on to your children. Thankfully, not everyone is the same.

I would like to bring to your attention a very, very well run program in our area that changes the way everyone looks at trades. This program is run through our local school district (Chilliwack) and has one teacher that runs it along with his other duties. His name is Garry Waal. Gary has taken many different ideas and made them his own and developed a program that is now being studied by other districts across the country. In fact, this program is so huge that most neighboring districts are involved as well as all the private schools. Every student from Grade 9 and up is encouraged to participate in the program and there are very big incentives to allow them to do so. However, as is life, you are not guaranteed to be able to participate. The students must talk with their parents or guardians and with Gary when they first apply. Then they must fill out an application which includes copies of their report cards or marks from their teachers, a letter of reference from their employers, a resume, a letter of reference from a teacher or community member and a letter from themselves that describes why they would like to participate in their chosen field. The parents & students (together) are then required to participate in a casual screening process that includes a brief 15 min interview. During this interview, the application papers are reviewed and the students and parents are asked a few questions in regard to their commitment to the program. They are then able to ask questions of their own. The students are required to work at maintaining a C+ average after they have entered the program. Keep in mind that we have students that are on the honor roll as well as students that are failing school that apply. Those with a less then C+ average are given a reasonable time to prove that they would like to stay in the program. I can not tell you of how many students that are on the verge of dropping out that come into the program and flourish. They get involved with their future and make choices of their own to continue. This “High School Apprenticeship Program” counts toward graduation requirements also. The students also qualify for a “one time” grant if they are continuing in their chosen field for a minimum of 6 months after graduation. This is a $1000.00 cheque to do with as they please from the provincial government. The goal is to help students purchase tools of their trade and pay for college required courses. When a student graduates from high school they can be ready to enter the first course of “college” studies towards their certificate. An eager student can be a fully ticketed trade’s person by the time they are 19-21 depending on their trade. At the end of each school year there is a huge dinner that all parents, students and employers in the program are invited to attend. In my opinion, its people like Gary and the Chilliwack School District in partnership with the Provincial Government that make it easier for students to choice a trade and go another path with their life.

I have participated in this program on many different levels. I have had the privilege to employ two separate automotive apprentices. I am also involved as an employer in the community in the interview process with the students and the parents. I hope that this information is useful. We need to let the country know that there is a way to keep the apprentices coming. Just because you’re in high school doesn’t mean that you have to “flip burgers” if you don’t want to. The younger generation can benefit from those before them and surpass all our expectations, if we let them!

Clara Hooper started Buny’s N’ Bugs Auto Repair Ltd. nine years ago fron scratch and since has developed her Volkswagen specialty shop into a business where customers wait weeks for an appointment. Based in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Clara encourages shops interested in the school program to contact her at

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