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OYAP student going at full throttle

By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun

Sitting through just one class was like an unending pit stop for a high school student who shifts into high gear when he puts in 10-hr. days in the service department of a car dealership.
Mike Bluthardt.

"Things just clicked," Mike Bluthardt of Leaside High School says of a co-op placement at Land Rover Toronto. "I was starting to get good at what I was doing. I was getting a good response from my employer. My marks even started going up. It's been a real motivator. I guess when you like something, you want to do well at it."

A renewed interest in learning has put the 18-year-old on the road to success.

"I'm a hands-on learner," he says. "I tend to learn quicker that way. I didn't know how much I'd like (automechanics) until I tried it."

After completing his co-op placement, Bluthardt was hired to work at the dealership over the summer. He has since signed on with the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP), allowing him to earn credits toward his high school diploma while the hours he works on a job are applied to journeyperson certification. OYAP also gives him a chance to earn a salary and receive financial assistance towards the purchase of required tools and clothing.

"The mechanics have been letting me do things since day one, but since I signed on for an apprenticeship, they're taking me more seriously," says Bluthardt, who will graduate from high school at the end of this semester and continue his apprenticeship at college.

Finding someone so committed to learning is welcome news for his employer. "If you get the right person and train them properly, you reap the rewards many times over," says service manager Greg Burns.
OYAP automechanic apprentice Mike Bluthardt, right, with supervisor Rob Assatory, at his placement at Land Rover Toronto.

It's been difficult to find qualified mechanics in recent years, Burns reports. "Back in the '80s, when times were good, most shops had two or three apprentices on board. You could grow your own talent...When things tightened up in the 90s, apprentices were the first to go. That has hurt the industry."

There's a shortage of apprentices in many trades, reports Mario Misasi, a co-op teacher at Leaside High School. "Most employers are very, very willing to take on young kids," he says. For students, the rewards are immeasurable.

"The apprenticeship guidelines in this province are unique," Misasi says. "They're designed for students to really learn beyond the material that's taught in the classroom."

He says OYAP fills an important void, he believes. "A lot of academic schools are not providing an opportunity for those students whose interests lie beyond the academic sphere. OYAP provides a framework for those students to get started on their careers."

Bluthardt is an ideal example of how well OYAP works, Misasi says. "He's so enthusiastic about what he's doing, when so many other kids out there are just trying to figure out where they should be. He has become enraptured with this program. That's what I want to see -- kids who are matched with their abilities and their aspirations."

(Linda White is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont. and can be reached at

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