For post-secondary students who are interested in pursuing a career in the retail auto industry, there is no better way to gain first-hand experience than to participate in a co-op work program.
Most new-car dealerships offer co-op programs for students attending post-secondary institutions, providing benefits to the participating schools, students and dealerships.
At my Ford dealership, we have offered co-op placements for dozens of students over the years. Students are interested learning about a variety of positions within a dealership, mostly in sales and service.
Depending on the dealership, co-op work placements may be offered in sales and service, finance, accounting, marketing and human resources.
Sometimes students enter a co-op program intending to work in one area, only to discover that a different area of the business is more suited to their skills and interest.
Some of the students whom we have hired have leveraged their co-op experiences into full-time positions. Others have moved on to pursue careers in the manufacturing, marketing and aftermarket sectors of the industry.
For some rural car dealerships (including ours), it is an ongoing challenge to attract co-op students. In our case, the post-secondary school in our community does not offer any automotive courses, and nearby mining companies offer good work opportunities for students.
In addition to providing students with hands-on experience in the field, co-op programs complement the theoretical knowledge students learn in the classroom. Plus, it provides students with an income while they’re learning, which helps to offset the costs of tuition, residency and educational materials.
Hiring co-op students offers advantages for dealerships, too. In some cases, it allows dealers to fill temporary positions, it provides a link between the dealership and the student’s school, and it provides an opportunity to provide mentorship for students that could lead to full-time employment.
The Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA) is a strong advocate of co-op programs and has partnered with several post-secondary institutions, including the Automotive Business School of Canada, Centennial College, Durham College and Algonquin College to make programs more accessible for students and dealerships.
Over the years, the TADA has introduced apprenticeship programs with colleges throughout the province. The goal is to provide students with management skills if they should choose to move beyond the shop floor.
The TADA-partnered programs involve in-class training and paid co-op placements. Students who completed the program were qualified to work as technicians, service advisers, managers and auto company representatives.
The TADA works with many post-secondary schools in an effort to reach out to the next generation of workers, parents and educators. The retail car industry competes with many other industries to attract bright and enthusiastic candidates.
Our sector needs to connect with young men and women and let them know about the careers and opportunities available.
Students are often introduced to careers in the computer, banking, medical and legal professions. These sectors enjoy popularity and respectability and have little difficulty attracting young students. But the automotive industry is sometimes overlooked by parents and guidance councillors because of outdated stereotypes and a lack of information.
Students who choose a career in the retail auto industry achieve a high measure of job satisfaction, great opportunities for advancement and excellent pay.
My advice to students seeking careers in the auto sector today is to acquire as much education as possible. The better educated students are, the more opportunities and advantages they’ll have in the marketplace.
Co-op programs continue to be an important part of the education process for students looking to join our industry. It is a great way for them to gain first-hand experience with the people who are already employed in the industry.
This column represents the views and values of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association. Write to [email protected] or go to tada.ca. Cliff Lafreniere is president of the TADA and is president of Pinewood Park Motors (Ford) in Kirkland Lake. For information about automotive trends and careers, visit carsandjobs.com.