Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2013   by Noelle Stapinsky

Higher Education

Trade focused high school program introduces students to automotive and industrial career paths

Labour shortages and recruiting fresh talent has long been one of the greatest challenges for skilled trades in Canada – a struggle the automotive and transportation industries know particularly well. Getting an apprenticeship straight out of high school is a rarity these days and most of the job postings for mechanics often require that the candidate is either a fully licensed trade professional or a third or fourth year apprentice.

Certainly service stations want to hire someone who’s already dedicated to their career or well on their way with a college diploma and a few years of experience under their belt. But such criteria beg the question of what’s being done to entice new talent to choose skilled trades as a career.

Enter the Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) – a set of new specialized programs offered by the Ministry of Education that were made available to public secondary schools across Ontario in 2012. The programs offer focused training in a variety of industries including transportation, agriculture, energy, and manufacturing, just to name a few, and customize the students’ secondary school education to suit their interests and talents.

Darryl Timmermans, the technology department head and SHSM lead teacher at North Middlesex District High School (NMDHS) in Parkhill, Ont., is now in his second year of running an SHSM transportation program. Timmermans, who was a licensed mechanic before getting into teaching at the rural southwestern Ontario school says, “I heard about the program and after looking into it, thought that it suited my school really well. We have a lot of farm kids and kids with hands-on backgrounds.”

The SHSM program at NMDHS covers all areas of the transportation industry such as automotive, small engine repair, heavy truck repair and farm equipment. Students in grades 11 and 12 must apply to qualify for the program, which includes an introduction to the transportation industry, four compulsory certification training courses – CPR, WHMIS, health and safety basics, and standard first aid – and three elective courses.

During the application process the students’ parents are involved as well. “You have to have the parents’ permission. And the biggest question I get from parents is about what their kid is going to get from this program. First, I tell them that they get to custom design their education to their interests. Second, the students get training and certifications related to the industry, making them more employable. And there are some [post-secondary] schools that offer benefits for having completed this program,” says Timmermans. “With the students, I need to know they’re in the program for the right reasons and they are committed. I want them all to be successful.”

For the elective courses, Timmermans teaches vehicle lift safety and a class on air brakes, and he turns to community and industry partners to help with the remaining electives, which includes classes such as fall protection, lockout/tagging, all-terrain vehicle safety, fire extinguisher use, and CAD and CAM training.

The community and business partnerships are key to this program as the students are required to complete a cooperative placement at a business related to the transportation industry, and Timmermans consults the business partners regularly on training suggestions for the program.

All of the other classes in the students’ curriculum are also tied into the program with what is called contextualized learning activities (CLA). “The purpose of this program is to keep the kids engaged in school, so we try to relate their other courses to transportation.”

As Timmermans explains, “For example, in math class when they are learning about graphing, the SHSM student can graph different fuel economy ratings for vehicles. In science, I know one student did a research assignment on fuels and hydrocarbons.”

To add even more to the program, the SHSM students get to participate in class trips. Last year they toured Fanshaw College’s new motive power facility, and this year they attended the Canadian International AutoShow in Toronto and will be heading back to the city this month for the Truck World Show.

And it’s not just for auto enthusiasts that want to get their hands dirty. The SHSM program also engages those who may want to get into sales, become a service manager or advisor, work in a parts store or even get into product design for the transportation industry.

After completing the program the students receive a special red seal on their high school diploma. Some of the students may move on to university or college and some might seek apprenticeships or head straight into the workplace. One of Timmermans’ students landed a full time job at a recreational power sports dealership where he did his co-op. And another student is now an apprentice at a truck shop. “The co-op gives the kids real world experience and employable skills… it also gives the employer the opportunity to see what they’re like before they hire them,” says Timmermans.

Now in its second year, Timmermans already has students approaching him about applying for next year’s SHSM program. But to propel this program even further and engage students with more transportation related experiences, industry partners are essential. Timmermans is on the hunt for connections to help with elective classes such as Drive Clean and original equipment manufacturer training. He says, “It’s important for the industry to realize that it benefits them to be involved.”

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