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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Unlocking the secrets of an ever-changing career

By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun

As a lead hand locksmith with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), John Amato has dealt with everything from repairing keyholes jammed by mischievous students to installing the newest security locks.
"It's a job that changes every day. Our guys are always doing something different," says John Amato, lead hand locksmith with the Toronto District School Board.

Nearly 25 years after beginning his apprenticeship, Amato, 44, remains intrigued by a trade that continues to evolve, thanks to technology and an increased demand for security.

"In the old days, locksmiths made keys with a file," Amato says. "That was before my time, but I still remember learning to impression a key with a file...Today, it's all computerized. You load a key into a machine, punch in a couple of codes, sit back and watch it go."

Amato attends an annual locksmith convention to learn about the newest equipment.

"It keeps getting more and more advanced," Amato says. "There are always new types of security features, like swipe cards and push button locks, which don't need keys. You just enter a code and change the combination when you choose ... Things are changing all the time."

The Danforth Technical School graduate began his apprenticeship with Pollock's Locksmith in downtown Toronto.

"I went around with the senior locksmith who showed me how to install locks and how to repair locks and automatic door closers," Amato says. "I also learned about master keying and how to re-key a building so someone like a superintendent could have access to every room."

After completing his apprenticeship, Amato went on to work as a locksmith with Toronto General Hospital, where he remained for seven years.

"In those days, the hospital had two full-time locksmiths. It's a lot cheaper for large institutions like that to have in-house locksmiths," he says.

"We were repairing locks and re-keying. Lots and lots of keys needed to be duplicated. There was also a lot of work involved with renovation projects."

Amato answered a job posting with the TDSB in 1987 and was hired for seasonal work, which typically lasted 10 to 11 months a year. Today, as the lead hand locksmith for the North Region, he oversees three locksmiths, assigning them to various duties each day.

"Everything's prioritized," says Amato, a member of the Maintenance & Construction Skilled Trades Council, the union representing TDSB tradespeople. "Sometimes there's a teacher who can't get into a classroom and you need to get there right away. We've even had people locked in a classroom."

The board has key-cutting machines at its locksmith shops, but its locksmiths are primarily on the road and keep in touch with the lead hand locksmith via pagers.

"You carry a fair amount of tools," Amato says. "You need tools to take apart locks and carry drills for installation. The trucks are fully-equipped. They're almost like a shop on wheels. It's more practical that way."

Amato has welcomed the opportunity to introduce high school students to the trade through school board programs like Job Shadow.

"It's always nice to show them what it's all about and hopefully they'll like the idea of becoming a locksmith," Amato says. "It's a job that changes every day. Our guys are always doing something different."

(Linda White ( is a freelance writer based in Brooklin, Ont.)

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