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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Youth Force
Building dreams with OYAP

By Aunie Edwards
Special to The Toronto Sun

David Hoyer is building his future -- but he's not doing it alone. He's backed by the collaborative efforts of an intuitive high school, an insightful community business and the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP). A senior at Northern Secondary, Hoyer is pursuing a career in furniture making, cabinetry and woodworking.
David Hoyer, right, with supervisor Robin Greenwood, is learning the fundamentals of furniture making at Gibson Greenwood, as part of the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program.

"OYAP is an incredible opportunity for David," says Maxine Wardle, head of co-op education for Northern Secondary. "As a registered member of the program, he's learning skills and accumulating hours toward an apprenticeship while he gains high school credits and valuable job training. He'll also receive financial support at the college level."

After meeting the pre-placement requirements, Hoyer began apprenticing at Gibson Greenwood, a custom design and fine furniture maker located at Dufferin Street and Landsdowne Avenue.

"We build furniture to architect or designer specifications. And we design our own original pieces -- it's all custom work," says Gabhan Gibson, Hoyer's supervisor and co-owner of Gibson Greenwood.

Hoyer spends alternate days at Gibson Greenwood, but his workload includes three courses at Northern Secondary.

"Unlike many high schools, we run a non-semestered program -- David's courses, as well as his placement, run throughout the year," Wardle says. "It's a testament to OYAP's flexibility -- the ministry wants this program to work well for each specific placement and each specific school -- and it does."

Gibson Greenwood is also flexible. "David's a good kid with great potential - we want him to learn as much as he can. To facilitate that goal, we've given him a project," Gibson says.

Hoyer's present job is to design, plan and build a storage unit for the shop.

"It really takes a lifetime to fully master the skills of woodworking," Gibson says. "We believe David's assignment is an excellent introduction to the craft -- rather than working randomly on different projects, he has a goal. He can see the entire project from beginning to end and he will use almost every machine in the process. David works at his own pace - there's less pressure, fewer mistakes and most importantly, less risk of injury."

Evidently, Gabhan Gibson and Robin Greenwood, the owners of Gibson Greenwood, offer a well-considered apprenticeship.

"This is the first year that Gibson Greenwood has been involved in our program and they've approached it with enthusiasm," Wardle says. "Their willingness to give a student a chance is remarkable."

And Hoyer couldn't be happier. "This is a terrific opportunity that I'm really enjoying," Hoyer says. "I have a lot of freedom, but I'm not being left alone. They're showing me how to do things the right way -- proper use of all the machines -- these guys are skilled and I'm lucky to be here."

Indeed, one of Hoyer's biggest advantages is his full understanding of the program's value.

"I have always liked working with my hands, being productive in a tangible and creative way. Among other things, apprenticing at Gibson Greenwood has confirmed the fact that I'm pursuing the right career," Hoyer says. "So I plan to continue my apprenticeship at Conestoga College --it's an OYAP affiliate and the fees are subsidized."

Gibson is confident, but he knows that success ultimately depends on Hoyer: "We're here to give David some insight into the craft of woodworking -- where he takes that is up to him."

Regardless of the tremendous network of support that surrounds him, it is Hoyer's talent and dedication that will bring his dreams into focus. Like his project at Gibson Greenwood, Hoyer has a goal -- he is building a future that is strong and functional. It's a future that he can see -- and it looks pretty good.

(Aunie Edwards is a Guelph-based freelance writer and can be reached at

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