Agroup of some 75 autobody professionals gathered in Toronto last month to usher in a new era in autobody apprenticeship.
“We’re here to share information and with your support, move the industry forward in terms of taking responsibility for its future, by forming a local industry committee to manage the apprenticeship in the workplace,” said Greg Yarrow, of host and sponsor Toronto Training Board. “We’re trying to make the industry better.”
The creation of the local industry board is designed to address a critical shortage of new blood in the industry. According to Susan Krone from the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, there are some 2,500 bodyshops in Ontario, but only 100 apprentices currently registered.
“Do we have a problem? Yes. Do we want to go enforcement? Probably not,” offered Krone. “Let’s go to education. This is a local initiative for a local problem. This is dealing strictly with the industry in the [Greater Toronto Area]. You have all heard the demographics. In 20 years we’re all heading to Florida. You’re going to have to invest in the future.”
Under the local committee program, rather than requiring apprentices to be employed by an autobody facility, the apprentices would be evaluated and approved by a committee of industry members. Apprentices would then immediately commence their classroom training. This avoids the need for a shop to secure an apprentice, and then lose that person for months on end while they complete the mandatory classroom training.
The committee members are not required to employ the apprentices, just meet to approve applicants.
“The industry committee would be there to register apprentices into the trade, to get them into school. Then, when they’re in the shop, they’ve already been in school. You’ll be dealing with someone with a little bit of knowledge. Because they have been exposed to it in school, they know what’s in store.”
“There are some things we need to do,” said Keith Burns, head of the Canadian Paint and Coatings Association and manager of marketing and sales support for automotive refinish at PPG Canada. “As I go out to shops in Canada and the U.S., I ask the question, ‘How are you doing with people?’ Everybody tells me they’re not doing well.”
Some 37% of the people in the industry are between 37 and 44 years old, says Burns, and only 8% are less than 25 years old. “What happens when those people move along? That is the problem. Without the people to run the shops, you’re not going to have the shops.”
He said that he understands the difficulties at hand, but offers that shops must get over their trepidation regarding apprentices.
“There needs to be a human resources strategy in Canada, but I have to tell you that the problem is the same across the U.S. It is difficult to get apprentices into shops. People don’t want to risk it,” says Burns. “You have to figure out a way to get around it. There are things you need to do to get people into the industry or there won’t be anyone to paint the cars.”