More Tech, More Collaboration

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Rob Ingram owns and operates Eldon Ingram NAPA Auto Pro in Stratford, Ont.  and also serves as Transportation and Technology Teacher at St. Michael's Catholic High School. You can reach him at [email protected]

Exposing students to technology programs is great, but proper resources are needed to create proper career training.

In our industry, there is a lot of discussion about where the next generation of skilled automotive technicians is going to come from. There’s no question we’re reaching a crossroads. A good deal of the workforce is aging, and, as we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic, retirements were brought forward, while others chose to leave the trade and pursue different interests. This has served to exacerbate the labour shortage and emphasize the need to build a consistent pipeline of young talent to ensure our industry stays viable long-term.

Not enough programs

For the longest time, our education system has been hampered by the fact that not enough high schools have tech classes, or not enough students are taking these programs. Starting in 2024, at least in Ontario, the provincial government under Doug Ford, has legislated that all high school students beginning in grade 9, will need to participate in at least one tech course. At the school where I teach, we offer four different disciplines within the Exploring Technologies curriculum. These are communications/design technology and tech related to the electrical, automotive, manufacturing and construction sectors.

This year, we modified things slightly, so that students spent half the time learning electrical, construction, automotive and manufacturing technology for half the time and communications/design tech for the other half. It provided an opportunity for the students to learn as much as possible while maximizing the resources available to the school. While it is great that tech classes are being mandated, schools need to have the resources and facilities to make sure students are properly exposed to these programs. Unless significant investments are made in expanding facilities and resources to teach these kids, many schools are going to struggle with mandatory tech classes, so that’s something that needs to be addressed collaboratively by the government, our education sector and industry.

Missed opportunities

If it isn’t we could face a situation where a lot of students fall through the cracks because they aren’t being taught properly, denying our industry and others the ability to catch them and bring them into the fold. Another key part of getting high school students interested in a career in the trades is by exposing them directly to industry, such as visiting vehicle manufacturing, service facilities and technical colleges and talking to those who work there about their experiences and responsibilities. If we’re able to expose kids to this kind of environment at the grade 9 level, we stand a much better chance of getting them into our industry long-term. Making it work requires funding and incentives, but more importantly, there needs to be a board office that oversees programs like this with superintendents and administrators. If you have that in place, it makes the ability to source funding and properly structure these programs much more feasible.

Giving more students the ability to experience tech programs is a very good thing and the government is definitely on the right track with this legislation, but in order for it to have a lasting impact, ongoing collaboration between government, learning institutions and the automotive sector is essential. We need proper resources to do this, which means more and expanded facilities, more teachers available to teach these programs and more opportunities to expose these kids to working environments where they get to interact with skilled tradespeople who are already well-established in their careers.