There are a number of ways to enter the field of automotive trades. You could be born into it through a family business, maybe stumble into the industry by accident, or, in Sasha Schlatter’s case, you can reach out and grab the opportunity when it presents itself to you.

The Torontonian was working at Home Depot– in his view, a dead-end job. He was not completely separated from the world of trades as the job had him working on engines and tool repairs. On the side, Sasha was taking night classes at Humber Youth Employment for motorcycle maintenance. He did not actually own a motorcycle, but the thought of getting one and saving on repairs and maintenance by getting his hands dirty appealed to him.

It was February this year that Sasha caught wind of an interesting opportunity. His night class teacher mentioned a course that was soon starting at the Tropicana Employment Centre in North York, Toronto. It was a course in collision repair. Something about the proposition clicked with him–it was his brother who was always the auto-buff, but it would be Sasha who would be taking his first steps toward a career in the auto repair industry. He applied to the program the same day he discovered it, which, as it happens, was the second-last day Tropicana was accepting applications. Sasha was not fully eligible for the program–he was missing a drivers licence of G2 ranking or higher, and thought that was the end of his automotive industry pursuits. But his efforts paid off when all the work he was doing at Home Depot, in conjunction with his night classes, was brought to the program director, Suad Dualeh’s attention. The licence requirement was waived, and Sasha would soon be beginning his journey into the repair industry.

The Auto Body and Collision Damage Repair training program is in its 10th operating year at the Tropicana Employment Centre. The program selects 20 students each year, who, over the course of five months, embark on a crash course to raise their knowledge and marketability towards the collision repair industry. Though only a few enrolled students had prior experience in the industry with the rest of the class flying blind, Sasha learned quickly due to his time at his night classes.

”When I first went in, I knew literally nothing about it,” Sasha told Bodyworx Professional. “The night classes helped out. Although they focused more so on engines and electrical work rather than repairing, it helped build a complete picture of the work involved.” His aptitude in collision repair would be a vital asset in the months to come. To achieve his first level requirements, Sasha, along with the other 19 pre-apprentices needed to complete a co-op placement at the end of the five months. In order to prepare, they began the employment centre’s two-phase process. The students first go through seven weeks of academic training in a community centre, where they work on grade improvements, WHIMIS training and even resume writing. Sasha described the process as very reading-heavy.

His time at the community centre was filled with assignments and paperwork in order to improve high school-level English and math. After their studies are completed, the students then move through 12 weeks of technical training, this time located at Centennial College’s Ashtonbee Campus. This is when the program takes a tactile turn: for three months, students gain hands-on experience with welding, refurbishing and polishing–all the necessary skills needed to make themselves more marketable to the industry. Both steps of Tropicana’s auto body program prepare students for a job fair following the five month process. At this point, students have the applicable knowledge, skills, and carefully crafted resumes prepared to approach employers for co-op opportunities. Big-name auto groups are often in attendance, with this year’s fair featuring Assured Automotive and CSN Brimell Toyota/ Drive Auto Group, with CARSTAR conducting one-on-one meetings at its facilities.

Sasha recalled touring the job fair at Centennial’s Progress Campus Event Centre. He said he found it a great way to network and touch base with potential superiors within the repair industry while getting to know them. Sasha felt it was a good chance for the employers to feel out the range of people coming out of the program. Sasha’s work culminated with yet another opportunity–TTC offered to bring him on board to complete his Level 1 in a three-month paid co-op opportunity within one of its facilities. The surreal feeling did not fully hit Sasha until he saw his future workplace.

”When we actually took a tour of the facility that I’m currently working at, I fell in love,” said Sasha. “We were driving by a while ago with family and I remember my mom telling me, ‘it looks like a dungeon!’” Today, Sasha Schlatter is enjoying learning to polish TTC vehicles, a job he says he finds rewarding due to a gratifying sense of accomplishment when he finishes a project through his own efforts alone. “It’s really nice to have a task that you fully see the way through, and know it was you that got all this work done,” said Sasha. “Once you’re finished, you can take a step back and admired your work. You feel proud. It reminds me of art class!” On the topic of art–Sasha said he wants his next focus at the facility to be on painting before his co-op term is over. Once Sasha receives his Level 1, he will need to find full-time work. Luckily, TTC hires internally, meaning that Sasha is now on a priority list for job offers within the company. Once Sasha is officially hired at TTC or elsewhere, he can choose whether he wants to pursue earning his Level 2 and eventually become a fully licenced technician, something he’s already heavily considering pursuing.

Sasha said that there is not nearly enough buzz over Tropicana’s program–a program that presented him with a life-changing opportunity. ”When I talked to other people about Tropicana’s program, they never knew it existed,” he said. “It’s really unfortunate that it was flying under the radar–I just found out about it by chance and it’s really been a blessing.”

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