Students at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Secondary School are being schooled in automotive trades. Photo courtesy Bishop Marrocco.Thomas Merton Secondary School

Automotive incentive targets trades shortage

  • May 27, 2022

Grade 11 student Robbie Nool has always been fascinated by machines. He’s not sure if he’ll become a mechanic one day but either way will use the skills he’s learning at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secndary School to have confidence with his own vehicle.

Through the program at the Toronto school, Grade 11 student Briana Caetano says she has gained understanding of the workings of a vehicle and been able to change tires, perform oil changes, check tire pressure and other basic services. Caetano, who hopes to open her own mechanic shop one day, believes these are essential life skills.   

“I’m learning new things every day about transportation which is something we need to know about especially living in a big urban city that is based on transportation,” said Caetano. “We have the TTC, airplanes, cars, bikes. These are skills and knowledge we all need to know because eventually we are all going to become car owners and we’re going to need to know how to (care) for it.”

Students at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton are getting their hands dirty, training and partnering with local employers in working on vehicles at the school’s state of the art automotive shop. The goal is to provide students with real-world job experience in hopes of inspiring more students to enter the trades. 

With baby boomers entering retirement en masse, they are leaving a large void in the skilled trades sectors which despite the strong earning potential, younger generations have tended to steer away from. The provincial government estimates there will be a shortage of 350,000 people required for skilled trades by 2025 and is encouraging more young people to enter these fields after high school. In March the province announced $28 million in funding to help pay for pre-apprenticeship training.

Transportation and technology teacher Joseph Mazza has been involved in trades since 1984, working privately at car dealerships until at age 47 he decided to go back to school to become a teacher. He has been encouraging students to take advantage of the financial incentives available. Particularly with the housing market out of reach for most young people, the trades, he says, are an opportunity to get further faster.

He’s been frustrated by parents who transfer a stigma about entering the trades to their children. Part of the foundation of life in any city, Mazza says the conversations parents are having with their children about career options needs to change.

“I get a feeling that parents today don’t want their kids to go into manual labour,” said Mazza. “They would rather them have a ‘nice little desk job.’ They would rather them become a doctor, accountant, lawyer or whatever. The truth of the matter is Toronto and all of Canada has always been driven by construction. Construction feeds everything else so without those skilled workers everything will come to a stop.”

Josie Candito is owner of Master Mechanic High Park and partners with the school providing apprenticeship opportunities to students. She estimates there will be a 15- to 20-year age gap in the trades.

The generation retiring is also taking with it a lot of other knowledge and skills within the trades that is not being passed down, says Mazza. Beyond the practical skills, there is an element of artistic ability that is also being lost with that generation. He says while the focus on boosting the trades is a practical one, something must also be done to ensure creative skills are nurtured and preserved as well.

“Those people that are retiring are taking a portion of construction and mechanical arts with them,” said Mazza. “They are not training new recruits or the new generation in these arts. Plastering to do decorative ceilings the way you would see in a cathedral or in older homes, you don’t see that anymore. It’s all become about production today, and the art has come out of it. I think that’s something that has to change.”

Prior to COVID-19, the school ran a Women Entering Non-Traditional Trades program, which introduced female students from local high schools and elementary schools to industry people and the opportunities available. Candito has been at the forefront of the conversation encouraging women to enter the industry. While many men and women may be put off by manual labour, she’s been exposing them to the many other opportunities available within the industry such as becoming suppliers, service advisors and other important roles. Over the years she’s mentored many female co-op students from the school and looks forward to being a mentor to Caetano in the coming school year.

The solution to bridging the trades gap is not gender specific but will involve everyone, she said.

“We’re trying to break those stigmas,” said Candito. “It’s a problem for both men and women so it’s not just about convincing women or having a conversation for women. The trades are an inclusive environment. Having more women come in would definitely solve the crisis instead of just looking to one gender to solve the problem.”

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