Fall is a time when students head back to class for the start of another academic year. For thousands of Ontario students, that means leaving the nest and going off to college or university to learn a trade or to further their education.
Education has always been a passion of mine. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to chair the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association’s (TADA) Education Committee, which supported various educational initiatives at the high school and post-secondary school level.
While serving as chair of that committee, I observed firsthand the excellent programs and quality of education available at colleges and universities in preparing students for a career in the auto sector.
I also had the opportunity to meet teachers, professors and education leaders who are committed to training the next generation of skilled workers for our industry.
One of the perennial challenges facing our industry isn’t the quality of teaching or the programs and resources available to students. It’s the lack of awareness about career opportunities and to a lesser extent, negative stereotypes about our industry.
For decades, the auto industry has suffered from a negative image, which has been passed on from generation to generation. When discussing career options at home, parents often steer the conversation towards banking, medicine, dentistry, computers, engineering and law.
Unfortunately, a career in the auto industry is rarely discussed in a serious or meaningful manner. As a result, young people grow up without ever learning about the exciting career options in our industry, which are as every bit as rewarding (and remunerative) as other professions.
Post-secondary institutions in Ontario have long been aware of the challenges in recruiting students to the auto sector, not to mention the negative stereotypes. Many of those institutions have taken up the challenge and addressed these issues head-on.
In February, 2012, the Automotive Business School of Canada (formerly Canadian Automotive Institute), launched a major rebranding initiative, with a new logo, marketing materials and a name change. These changes have received positive reception from potential and current students and from the auto industry.
To help deliver messages in an increasingly noisy marketplace, post-secondary schools have developed partnerships with auto manufacturers, government bodies, industry groups, and automobile associations (including TADA). They also network at industry events, auto shows and career fairs, where they can interact directly with students and teachers.
Centennial College conducts outreach programs, organizes skills competitions and arranges apprenticeship programs with auto dealerships. Representatives from the college also visit high schools to speak with students, teachers and guidance councillors. (The TADA also sponsors an apprenticeship program at Centennial.)
Post-secondary institutions have embraced web-based technologies and social media to help spread their messages as well. The Automotive Business School of Canada, Centennial College and other post-secondary institutions are active on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube. The “Millennial” generation spends a lot of time on social media and so it’s important to have a presence in that space.
But I believe the lion’s share of a child’s influence still rests with parents. When discussing career options with their children, parents need to include automotive disciplines and make children aware that careers in automotive are challenging, viable, fulfilling, and abundantly available.
Whether it’s working in the retail, aftermarket or manufacturing sectors, the auto industry offers a diverse selection of careers in accounting, finance, marketing, sales, human resources, management and engineering. Indeed, an entire discipline in digital marketing and social media at the dealership level has sprung up in recent years and skilled people in that area are constantly in demand.
Despite the progressive attitudes and great work being performed by our auto associations, governments and post-secondary institutions, we still have a ways to go in overcoming old stereotypes and polishing the image of our industry.
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