Alberta MDA promoting skilled trades for students

The Motor Dealers’ Association of Alberta (MDA) is talking to the provincial government about ways to promote to high school students the benefits of choosing jobs in the automotive skilled trades industry as a career option.

MDA President Gerald Wood told Canadian auto dealer the MDA had a meeting in early May with the Minister of Advanced Education because the government wants to find ways to funnel young people into the trades.

“Obviously we think our role is to make sure automotive gets its fair shake through the course of that,” he told Canadian auto dealer. “We’ve agreed to work together to try and mutually benefit from drawing more people into the trades.”

The MDA has a scholarship program available that provides $80,000 a year to help post-secondary students apprenticing in the automotive industry. Wood said financial help from the government could expand the annual amount of scholarship money, but a critical element is driving more students into considering the automotive trade.

“We’ll work with these government organizations to leverage the work they are doing and piggyback off of it with the belief that we’ll put more people into the stream and then ultimately as they start going through the program the funding is there with scholarships to help them afford it,” he said.

“The Calgary Motor Dealers’ Association has a series of scholarships as does the Edmonton Motor Dealers’ Association and a number of the smaller local associations. We’ve got some specific ones with certain institutions in Alberta and for our skilled trades we have a dedicated scholarship.”

Wood said the students, who work as apprentices in various capacities for dealerships affiliated with the MDA, apply directly to the association for scholarship assistance and the cheques are handed out on a quarterly basis. Wood said the scholarships range between $750-$1,500 and are dispersed to between 50-60 applicants who are judged on their academic marks and financial need. Applicants can receive the scholarship funds more than once.

Wood said the number of students who have gone through the automotive skilled trades directly into the business full-time has been strong.

“From our dealer reaction, that’s what it’s all about,” Wood said. “You make the investment of training the individual and help them get through school. The student typically is comfortable to continue working where they’ve learned everything. It’s a pretty simple transition.”

He said there are MDA member dealerships actively going into high schools to promote the idea of working in the automotive trades industry. He added his organization is looking to put together a package of materials such as displays and brochures the members can use to help them do a more effective job talking to students.

“Quite frankly there are so many high schools in Alberta that for our association to do it ourselves is pretty much impossible,” he said.

He said a critical strategy from his association’s perspective is reaching out to high school guidance counselors to make sure they are talking about skilled trades in general and, in particular, the automotive skilled trades industry.

“It’s a huge opportunity for us,” he said. “There’s lots of students out there that would be very surprised at what kind of career earnings potential exists within automotive. The reality is it’s not working on engines with grease up your elbows the same way it used to be. It’s computer programming and those types of things.”

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