Time for new training alternatives: CFMS

by Lou Smyrlis

TORONTO, Ont. – Considering the trucking industry’s desperate need for qualified technicians, one would think apprentice programs would be full of applicants eager for a well-paying job.

Yet, as the numbers at one of the prominent apprenticeship training schools indicate, this is far from industry reality.

The numbers for fall apprenticeship program enrollment shown to CFMS delegates attending a panel discussion on training alternatives painted a sobering picture of an industry problem that has no quick solution.

While the number of students applying for apprenticeships in the automotive, motorcycle and aircraft programs at Centennial College is outpacing the number of available slots by factors of 3:1 and 4:1, spots for the truck and trailer apprenticeships remain open due to lack of interest.

“This is a puzzle to me and a challenge for all of us,” said Peter Woodhall, chair of corporate training at Centennial College. “We need to promote apprenticeships and make it more appealing for people to get into the trade.”

But Dan Towey of the Canadian Automotive and Truck Institute said the low interest in trucking industry apprenticeships is reflective of long-term neglect and is a situation that requires some radical changes in the way training is handled.

“We have neglected our gene pool to the point of practical extinction. We have failed to generate the interest and desire to enter this trade,” he said, adding training will have to be designed to satisfy the employee need to excel.

“No more can training be a hocus-pocus, train everyone approach. The new style of training is to have the staff involved in the choice of the most beneficial educational program … and to work on a need-to-know content. Why train on stuff that will be of no benefit to the company?”

The failure to attract new blood into the industry is particularly alarming, according to John Ottema, transportation technician trainer for Southwood Secondary School, because a lot technicians currently working in the industry are retiring.

“There are a lot of people leaving the industry and not enough people entering it,” he said.

Ottema believes the Ontario youth apprenticeship program he is involved with at Southwood Secondary School may provide part of the answer.

The program places technically-minded high school students in industry apprenticeships from the age of 16, which provides the industry with an opportunity to present the available career opportunities to teenagers just as they are starting to formulate their career aspirations.

The program is designed for “motivated” Grade 10 students who are committed to a career in skilled trades.

The students get credits towards their Grade 12 diploma for taking part in the long-term apprenticeship. Employers don’t have to pay the high school students during their apprenticeship and, in fact,

Ottema advised against doing so because then the students would be regarded as employees and would qualify for benefits.

Although the high school apprentices are much younger than the typical apprentice going through a college program they can be an asset to the shops in which they will end up working, Ottema said.

“They will be an asset, not a pain in the butt. We hold them to a 70 per cent mark in their high school classes (which include math, English, science and physics courses). If they can’t do that then they can’t make it in the trades,” Ottema said.

“It gives you an opportunity to test drive a potential employee for a long time. You will truly come to know what kind of employee he would be and whether you want to keep him. He is basically giving you the equivalent of a six-month job interview. And if it doesn’t work out, there is no legal requirement for you to keep the students.”

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