Feature April 1, 2008 by
Jim Anderton,, Technical Editor
Is Apprenticeship Dead?
If ever there was a time for a young person to get into our trade, it's now. Labour shortages, more vehicles on Canadian roads, an ageing shop ownership base, plus increasing sophistication of vehicle...
If ever there was a time for a young person to get into our trade, it’s now. Labour shortages, more vehicles on Canadian roads, an ageing shop ownership base, plus increasing sophistication of vehicles (slowly removing the “grease monkey” stigma) should make for a gold rush mentality among high school students looking for a trade.
Instead, we have labour shortages, but no effective way to get young blood into the industry. And apprenticeship is a major part of the problem. This method of training began with guilds and really took off with the advent of labour unions and government involvement in consumer and industrial affairs. The idea was to provide an orderly stream of replacement workers while guaranteeing a minimum level of competence, both for employers and consumers. It sounds good, but here’s what really happens: Smaller shops, already inundated with work, can’t spare the time to train apprentices, who have difficulty getting their required hours. Large shops and new car dealerships, however, have the size necessary to provide the training, giving them the pick of the crop of young trainees. The big operations are also better able to absorb the lower productivity of rookies as well as administer complex government paperwork. The actual outcome is frustration and wasted time for the apprentice, lost time and revenue for the shop and a bias that adds yet another disadvantage to smaller shops. The system is, put simply, broken.
So how do we repair it? Here’s a radical suggestion that’s just too sensible to ever be considered by government, at least here in Ontario: Scrap apprenticeship for the automotive trades. Here’s my solution: Have a standard qualification test for automotive safety-related systems, namely brakes, steering/suspension and airbag/restraint systems. Everything else is open, with the option of the tech taking further qualification in other vehicle systems on a merit badge basis, like ASE. The tests should be set by a panel of experts pulled from the aftermarket, not the OEM’s, who have an interest in their own technologies. This testing system would also require open access to OEM repair data.
The result would be an industry where a candidate tech could work for any shop, anywhere as long as he/she studies and passes the basic exams. Why do we need this system? Because kids are smart and won’t work for a shop that can’t give them the hours they need, driving them into the big operations. Let’s face it, an intelligent prospect with good hands and a strong work ethic will be a good tech, regardless of what the certificate says. And putting in the required hours won’t make a lousy tech competent, either. In the end, this system would produce the same techs we have today, good, bad and just average, depending on the shop environment they work in. Don’t hold your breath waiting for change, though. There is an army of government bureaucrats whose big pensions depend on keeping the apprenticeship shell game alive.