Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2004   by CARS Magazine

Selling Students on Automotive Careers

In every industry there are people who stand out for their ability to speak with knowledge and passion about their work and to generate enthusiasm and interest in their audiences. By talking about wha...

In every industry there are people who stand out for their ability to speak with knowledge and passion about their work and to generate enthusiasm and interest in their audiences. By talking about what they know, they become recruiting ambassadors, prompting students and others to consider careers that weren’t even on their radar screen before. We’d like to tell you about a few of the people who are spreading the word about working in the automotive repair and services field and show you how you might join their ranks.

Don McLaughlin is a busy man. He is the president owner/operator of Goodturn Ride Centres Inc. in Hamilton, as well as an active participant in a variety of community and provincial initiatives, ranging from the Ontario Drive Clean Program to the Skilled Trades Alliance, to the Motive Power Committee at Mohawk College which reviews courses delivered to auto services apprentices. How does someone as involved with as many different organizations find the time to visit schools and colleges to talk about skilled trades and employment opportunities in the automotive sector? McLaughlin attributes it in part to the enthusiastic support of his employees, and a natural evolution for someone who supports co-op programs and has been involved in the Hamilton business community since 1965. He always finds the time in his hectic schedule to accommodate high schools, colleges or the Industry Education Council (IEC) when they invite him to speak on one of his favourite topics – the passing on skills and knowledge from a skilled tradesman to the next generation.

McLaughlin finds the students of today less goal oriented, more ambivalent, or perhaps just more confused by the choices they have than he was when he went to high school. He himself recalls being greatly influenced by a service technician who could fix a car and make it run properly. Kids today need to do more research about what they want to do. “I try to impress on them the need for goal setting, short-term, mid-term, and long-term. It’s a ladder of life. You have to go up one rung at a time. As you progress you achieve goals, and as you are achieving goals, you have to be thinking of where you need to go next.” In many ways it is harder for students in high schools to think about their options, given the trend in schools to cut out shop programs which allowed them to experience working with their hands.

The role of key influencers is also changing as far as McLaughlin can tell. Where in the past it was not uncommon to have a son follow a father’s example and become a mechanic or a fireman, there is more pressure on the part of parents for children to do better, stay in school longer to get a degree or diploma. Part of that pressure comes from the persistent misconceptions that linger around skilled trades. “As an industry we need to motivate kids to take a strong look at skilled trades. People for too long have thought that there is no future, no rewards in skilled trades and that you end up in a factory making widgets.” says McLaughlin. Far from it. “The backbone of Canada is still skilled trades. Everything we see out there has been made by skilled trades. There’s self-satisfaction to be gained by making or fixing a service or a product. Skilled trades these days are very professional careers, offering good benefits. A good registered service technician can make $ 65 – 100,000 a year, doesn’t start out with a huge student loan debt and is unlikely to be out of work any time soon.”

McLaughlin is working at many levels to spread the word on the opportunities in the industry and to create the continuity that will make it easy for today’s students to join tomorrow’s workforce. He notes that students in grade 7 and 8 show an interest in cars, in how they work and how to fix them, but within the school system people aren’t really capitalizing on that interest.

A good way to stimulate that spark of interest, as McLaughlin has found, is the CARS Career Information Kit. “It’s a wonderful tool for us to take to schools to deliver our message about the opportunities in the automotive service trades. We can’t thank CARS enough. It’s informative, easy to follow, presents itself well” but is a good support tool as well. McLaughlin has only used the kit for the past 2-3 months, but is finding it invaluable. He is looking forward to using it at a trade symposium put on by Mohawk College and the Industry Education Council for the Hamilton Wentworth area at which 85 students from local high schools will pack into a room to hear McLaughlin speak on the automotive service trades. There will be presentations on hair dressing, plumbing and more, but McLaughlin’s presentation is usually one of the most popular. Such a symposium presents a good opportunity to talk to them about the next steps they have to take and things they should consider. Hamilton, he finds, is at the forefront of educating students on the opportunities offered by skilled trades.

A trend he finds discouraging is that many high schools provincially seem to have dropped the hands-on courses like Shop and Home Economics which allowed students to see how wonderfully rewarding working with their hands can be. He suggests that perhaps if high schools are finding it too expensive to offer shop classes it might be feasible to make arrangements with a technical college in the community to bus students over so they can experience what automotive repair and service work is like. “We need more employers to get more involved in the delivery of career information on skilled trades” he says.” Employers are the ones that are going to lose when students don’t take an interest in pursuing the skilled trades.”

At the post-secondary level he is involved in the establishment and overseeing of guidelines and restrictions for new curriculum material as member of a provincial advisory committee. On the Mohawk College Motive Power Committee he contributes to the development of new courses for future service technicians and reviews current courses delivered to auto service apprentices. Participating in both organizations, he is witnessing the constant evolution of the industry and the many advancements in program delivery at post-secondary institutions. He also sees currently employees constantly upgrading their skills with new courses every year as automotive systems become more complex and repair costs increase.

When it comes to the school-to-work transition, McLaughlin strongly feels that more employers need to bring on another employee, to open their doors to high school co-op students to let them experience the work. “I don’t care if you make awnings, there’s room there to find out if the student likes to sew. It used to be that every service station had an automotive technician and an apprentice as a gas jockey. Now most of those kids are at McDonald’s flipping burgers.”

McLaughlin commends the Burlington area members of the Automotive Aftermarket Retailers of Ontario (AARO) who have taken the initiative to go to area schools, career information kit in hand, to inform educators of what options are available to students who love to work with their hands, or want to get out there and get working, or who, for whatever reason just aren’t interested in post-secondary education leading to careers in medicine or law.

McLaughlin is puzzled as to why more employers are not taking advantage of co-op placements and apprenticeship opportunities to bring young people into the work environment. “I love co-op students. Having them gives my trades people a chance to show off their work and say this is how we do this.” He speculates that some employers may be afraid that the three-month commitment will mean they have to hire the student at the end of the term. It may be that employers are unaware of tax benefits and incentives that exist for employers who take in co-op students or apprentices. It would be great if there were one central number that small employers could call to find out all this information. Or it may be a comfort level with taking in a total stranger, but then again there is a screening process you get to choose person you want.”

Corrie Robley, Project Manager with the Nova Scotia Automotive Human Resource Sector Council, says that her organization participated in the development of the CARS Career Awareness Kit and has promoted it since its’ creation. The Nova Scotia Automotive Sector Council speaks directly to students and clients at schools, job fairs, career centres and at scheduled parent and youth information meetings.

The Council utilizes the CARS kit extensively for all Youth Internship and Youth Employment projects, and with guidance counsellors, career practitioners and teachers. NS teachers and guidance counsellors regularly comment that they find the CARS material very professional and useful, however “industry has to do a better job working with junior and senior high schools in promoting skilled trades,” says Robley, “Here in Nova Scotia, the excitement is definitely building. Now with the CARS Career Awareness poster, brochure and career reference guide, exposure in the schools, customer waiting areas and career centres is on the rise.”

Robley was encouraged to see that at a career centre presentation in September, a father had brought along his son, a grade 8 student; taking him out of school specifically to hear the information on the automotive industry. The message is certainly getting out there.

And what is it that the audiences come to hear? Students and their parents want to know what employment opportunities the industry has to offer, what characteristics employers are looking for and what are the career pathways. Career practitioners are most interested in labour market statistics and demographics, education requirements and career options.

Aside from pointing out the growing shortage of technicians, Corrie Robley highlights two particular occupations in speeches, those of the automotive service advisor and automotive parts counter person. “These two careers offer an excellent way for youth especially females to enter the industry, develop their skills and choose whether they will move on.”

There is a strong indication that industry likes the look and feel of the Career Information Kit. Industry employers express approval with the way career opportunities are portrayed. With the Nova Scotia council promoting the kit, employers are now taking their own initiative to participate in their local community job fairs, school career days as well as inviting youth to come on site for a tour.

Among the many employers deserving recognition for their promotion of the industry the most dedicated include Karen and Blaine North, of North’s Auto Body, an independently owned collision repair facility, Tony Clarke, Service Manager at Pothier Motors and Dana Poehl of Poehl’s Auto Recyclers all from Queens & Hants County NS. Together they organized and coordinated their time for a 12-hour long career fair for students at Avon View High School. Students checked out the work done by auto body repair workers, parts manufacturers and recyclers and discovered the technology used in the collision and service and repair industry. The employers utilized the CARS display booth, distributed information kits, and arranged for suppliers to donate prizes ranging from hats and jackets, to auto parts as part of a draw. Robley lauds this excellent first-time effort by the three companies as serving as a role model for others to follow.

In addition many more Nova Scotia employers are taking time out of their busy schedule to make presentations using the CARS kit at their local high school. Their presentation includes an introduction to the industry, the work they do, employment opportunities and how to pursue a career in the automotive industry. “It’s important that students understand there are real-life applications for their maths and sciences. Over the past year more than seventeen employers visited the schools and career fairs, including Gerry Chute of Motor Mart, a GM Dealer in Yarmouth, Hughie’s Auto Collision Centre in River Bourgeois, Cape Breton and Malcolm Madden, Eel Brook” says Robley.

Everyone comments that the career awareness kit is one of the most professional marketing suites they’ve come across in the trades. The youth are very surprised to discover there are 43 careers in the industry and the format of the reference guide provides a real life scenario for them.” Throughout the year, she encourages teachers, career practitioners, and employers to display the poster, promote the reference guide and direct youth to all resources available in the automotive service and repair industry.

When asked what message she would share with others, she commented, “The CARS Kit is a very professional tool. But, too often it can be left unused, without the personal promotion and relationships supporting it. It is our responsibility as industry to share the kit with teachers, other employers, youth and career centres if we are going to create excitement and let young people know of the professional and growing careers in our industry.”