Greater Fort Erie High School scores $120,000 automotive equipment donation from Bertie Tirecraft
Automotive students Randy Giroux and Damien Pikel work underneath a car in the school’s shop on Tuesday, thanks to a donation of a new car lift courtesy of Bertie Tirecraft. - James Culic/Staff Photo
FORT ERIE — The kids today, they love their smartphones and whatnot. Always SnapBacking to their Spotify followers on InstaFan or whatever it is they do with those things.
Their tech-obsessed tendencies have created a major skills gap in Ontario, with fewer and fewer students going into traditional trade jobs like auto mechanic.
“There’s still that stigma there, right, that this is a ‘greasy’ trade to be in,” said Mike Grummett Jr., from Bertie Tirecraft. “That misconception is one of the things we’re trying to change here today with this.”
Grummett graduated from Fort Erie Secondary School and went into the family business at Bertie Tirecraft, a local automotive shop that’s been operating in town for nearly 30 years now. But in the years since he graduated, Grummett said he’s watched as enrolment in automotive trade work declined, and he thinks it’s because of that “greasy” stigma. In a bid to combat that negative narrative, he helped facilitate the donation of a piece of high tech alignment equipment, valued at $120,000. The laser-guided computer controlled lift, which was gifted to the new Greater Fort Erie High School automotive program classroom this week, will show students that the automotive trade has adapted to include cutting edge technology into the shops.
“I’ve seen guys who’ve been in this industry for 20 years who are just now starting to train on this equipment,” said Chris Moore, national director of marketing with Tirecraft. “So these kids are going to be so far ahead of the curve.”
The school’s automotive teacher, Gaston Letourneau, agreed and said the things being taught on this new auto rig at GFESS couldn’t be done at any other high school in Ontario.
“This is really college-level stuff we’re using,” said Letourneau, who was a mechanic for 20 years before taking over the automotive class at the new high school in September. He said having the equipment right in the class makes a huge difference for the students as they try to learn the ins and outs of fixing a car.
“We do the lessons on the chalkboard first, and sometimes, you can see they aren’t quite getting it, because all the angles and the directions, it can be pretty confusing and complex,” said Letourneau. “But then you walk them over to this thing and actually show them how it works, and instantly you see that light bulb go on in their minds, and they get it.”
School principal Fred Louws said he was thrilled with the donation, and noted Bertie Tirecraft’s generosity may be helping to train their own future employees at the school.
“This donation really puts us above any other automotive program anywhere in the province,” said Louws.
On top of their equipment donation, Grummett said Bertie Tirecraft will also be setting up an annual scholarship program through the school’s automotive shop. At the end of each school year, he said the class’s top student will be given a test (resembling a busted car) and if they can pass, they will score a cash scholarship toward their continued education at a post-secondary institution.
James Culic is an Ottawa-expat, reporting the news around Niagara’s southern tier. He also writes a weekly opinion column which people seem to love to hate-read. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.