A Kingston shop owner is asking the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) to lend financial assistance to aspiring automotive, trucking, and collision technicians.
Lindsey Bakker, owner of Lindsey’s Tire and Auto Centre in Kingston, Ont., says he heads up a group of local motive power professionals who want OCOT to pay two-thirds of the $400 “seat” cost for first-year apprentices, and one-third of the cost for second-year apprentices.
The aid is necessary, he says, because aspiring technicians will not make high wages in their first few years, even as they face huge career costs, like the investment of thousands of dollars in tools.
“There is a high cost of entry in this industry,” he said. “If we can help apprentices just a little bit, we can really help people stay in the industry. It would be a good way to support the trade’s future.”
Bakker has written an elaborate proposal with graphs and charts, which he hopes will lead to a favourable decision this fall. The proposal would cost about $1.38 million per year.
“We could probably ask for more, but we’re trying to be realistic,” he says. “We could ask for them to pay all of the seat cost for the first two years, but if people are handed things, 100 per cent, they don’t give it their all.”
He describes the financial relief as a way for the college to give back to its motive power members, who contribute some $9.1 million a year to OCOT coffers. He also points out that OCOT recently invested about $15 million of its $24 million available cash.
But Jamie Holmes, a member of OCOT’s board of governors, who has had email exchanges with Bakker, says there are a couple of basic problems with the idea.
“Number one, it’s not our mandate. Our mandate is to protect the public interest, and promote the trades,” he says. “Number two, that’s not our money to give out. OCOT does, at present, have a surplus, and that surplus has been invested, on behalf of the members, to make money to support the college.”
Holmes says the matter would be more properly brought to the Motive Power Trade Board, a group of technicians and shop owners that could bat the idea around and decide if it has sufficient merit to be brought to the board of governors.
“Any initiatives have to start there,” he says. “And they’ll be more than happy to talk to him. They’ll have that discussion with him. That’s why we have a grass-roots system.”
Bakker says he likes the progress OCOT has made in setting up a public registry of licensed technicians, and in expressing an interest in working with other provinces to develop a national curriculum and licensing program for automotive professionals.
The seat funding is only the first idea that he has to help OCOT further prove its worth to technicians.
“The next step we want to take is to ask the government to either raise the ceiling of tool costs that apprentices can claim, or remove the ceiling entirely,” he says. “And down the road, I’d like to make it so that automotive professionals are the only ones who can buy brake and suspension parts.”
He says the changes are necessary to safeguard the industry’s future.
“I’m 54 years old and, like a lot of shop owners and technicians my age, we’re soon going to be getting out of this business. It’s going to leave a big void,” he says. “I want to try to stop the bleeding of our trades. I want to bring the health and prosperity back into our trades.”