Students at the Automotive Business School of Canada interact with industry professionals for a highly engaging and encouraging event.
On November 22, AIA Canada and the Automotive Business School of Canada (ABSC) hosted their 16th annual Student Aftermarket Day. This event was significant in that it was the first one to take place at ABSC’s newly expanded campus at Georgian College in Barrie, Ontario.
Patrick Verriet, Key Account Manager, Mann+Hummel and Chair, Young Professionals in Auto Care (YPA) for AIA Canada, served as emcee, providing an overview of the day’s activities that included an address from AIA Canada President Jean-Francois Champagne; an ASBC Alumni panel discussion; an on-site career showcase, as well as presentations from other successful industry professionals with a focus on HR and the future of the auto care industry.
Students were encouraged to participate in the program by asking questions to the speakers as well as sharing their own opinions on the auto care sector and personal career ambitions.
Jean-Francois Champagne emphasized the size and scope of the aftermarket auto care industry, noting that it employs almost half a million people in Canada, as well as providing solid career opportunities. He noted the incredible efficiency of the supply chain that allows service centres to readily service and repair some 26 million vehicles on Canadian roads, as well as the resilience the industry has consistently demonstrated over the years. During the COVID-19 global pandemic, the auto care sector was declared an essential service to the overall economy and has proved vital and relevant for consumers in both good times and bad. Even when the economy contracts (as we are currently witnessing) and consumers are looking to get more mileage out of their existing vehicles, the auto care sector is there to help. Beyond that, Champagne talked about the variety of businesses and opportunities, from small, rural operations, to large franchises and corporate locations, as well as additional careers in collision repair and vendor organizations that support auto care.
For those looking to make a huge impact, he talked about the fact that both entrepreneurial and corporate opportunities are available within auto care and as if to demonstrate to the attending students just how dynamic they are and how successful those who pursue them can be, three ASBC alumni were invited for a panel discussion to share their experiences.
Champagne moderated the discussion which featured Costa Haitas, President, The Muffler Man, Stephanie Cooney-Mann, General Sales Manager, UAP Inc. (NAPA) and Devin TerMarsch, Strategic Account Manager, DRiV.
Cooney-Mann said that based on her experience, a key part in establishing a successful career path begins at college where students should take the opportunity explore and take multiple different courses as well as network and build their own personal brand. “Make sure you’re having those conversations and don’t be afraid to say hello and engage with those people in the industry you meet at events like this, as they were once in your shoes,” she said.
TerMarsch explained it was important to step out of your comfort zone in order to succeed. He said that one of his own fears was presenting in front of his peers and it was a fear he learned to overcome. “Get used to being in front of your classmates as that is really going to help,” he said.
Haitas, who took the entrepreneurial path in the industry, explained that in starting his own company, a lot of the skills he learned while attending ABSC, proved hugely beneficial in running his own business.
TerMarsch explained that initially, he struggled to find a career path and an organization that he felt was a good fit for him, but a conversation with his career co-op advisor at ABSC led him to a meeting with the Regional Manager for Tenneco, who gave him the opportunity to grow into the career he now has.
Cooney-Mann explained that career progress isn’t always straightforward and highlighted her own journey in leaving the auto care sector and then coming back to it, finding her calling in the sales & marketing realm. She still remembers that often, she was the only female in the room and that getting uncomfortable, in order to achieve your goals, breeds confidence and ultimately, success.
The panelists were also asked about a variety of topics impacting the industry today, including the issue regarding electrification of the vehicle fleet. While we have yet to see large scale adoption, EV take rates are increasing and that will likely impact the aftermarket auto care sector in the years to come.
Haitas talked about the importance of financial literacy and how important it is, particularly when you’re running your own business. “You need to have a game plan. You must understand your resources and your overhead.” He explained that ultimately, no matter what happens—disruption, technology advances, AI, alternative fuel sources—the auto care industry is fundamentally, about people serving people and if you’re able to consistently focus on that, you will never go wrong.
Right fit, right focus
Following the panel discussion, students had an opportunity to meet with representatives from multiple organizations within the auto care sector, covering everything from parts and service, to franchise networks and sales co-operatives. Following lunch, students had a chance to hear from Shannon Langsford, Director of Human Resources at Mevotech.
Langsford talked about the importance of a good fit between the job applicant and the organization, noting that it was important to look at factors such as personality and aptitude as well as objectively looking at things both from the applicant and organization’s perspectives.
She talked about the importance of feedback and how channelling passion and energy into a particular role can reap huge rewards, both for the individual and the organization. While hard skills are important and delving into different aspects of the business improves personal performance and ability, Langsford stressed the significance of learning and developing soft skills. “Don’t discount them,” she stated. “You need to be able to work with different people across all levels of the organization from those working on the floor, to vendors, engineers, other people in technical roles as well as leaders. You need to learn to tailor your communication style to the people you’re working with, and you need to learn to navigate different and sometimes challenging personalities,” she explained.
Award winning presentation
A key part of Student Aftermarket Day are the presentations that students at ABSC put together. Each year, winning students receive a scholarship courtesy of the High Five for Kids Foundation. In 2023, the winning group consisted of Flynn Barrett, John Barrett and Adeline Forget, who discussed Electric Vehicles in Transition. The trio presented a range of environmental impacts by electric vehicles on the automotive aftermarket sector and factors service providers and parts suppliers need to consider. It was well-presented, with some great talking points, understanding that the whole concept around EVs is about more than just zero tailpipe emissions, including the impacts of raw materials, manufacturing, and recycling on the environment.
The final session of the day came from Saar Haimovici, Automotive Operations Manager at Canadian Tire. Haimovici discussed the future of Internal Combustion Engine vehicles as well as the potential growth trajectory for Hybrids and EVs.
Haimovici noted that among current EV and hybrid owners, many aren’t aware that aftermarket service centres are fully capable of working on their vehicles and the perception that dealers are more qualified is in fact a myth.
He said that ultimately, success for service providers and other aftermarket businesses will depend on convenience, quality of service, trust and reputation, regardless of the types of vehicles they maintain and repair.