As a national judo champion, Joline LaFlamme recognized the importance of self-discipline. Today, that same skill is just as important to her as she sets her sights on becoming a millwright.
"There's so much to learn and I can't wait," the 17-year-old Oshawa resident says of her decision to follow in her father's footsteps.
"I'm learning what it will be like when I'm working in the trade full time," says millwright apprentice Joline LaFlamme.
LaFlamme earned the national juvenile championship in 2000. Though she no longer competes because of injuries, she's not one to give up easily. The Monsignor Paul Dwyer Catholic High School student took automotive technology for two years before enrolling in a general machinist program in Grade 11.
Students in that program take a pre-apprenticeship course at Oshawa's Central Collegiate Institute. They complete manufacturing precision metal machining and math classes before taking co-op at a local machine shop.
LaFlamme completed her placement at Tool Dynamics in Pickering. Her tasks included repairing, maintaining and installing industrial machinery -- the tools that work the shop's tool and dye presses.
"It's given me good experience," says LaFlamme. "I'm learning what it will be like when I'm working in the trade full time...The people I worked with were always willing to share their knowledge."
During the second semester of Grade 12, students register with the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP). That allows them to earn credits towards their high school diploma, while the hours they work are put towards journeyperson certification.
The apprentices divide their time between work placements and Durham College. They take core subjects related to the general machinist apprenticeship before selecting a direction, which can include mould maker, pattern maker, CNC (computer numeric control) programmer or tool and die maker.
Students learn to operate an engine lathe, a vertical lathe and CAD/CAM.
"They come out with good advanced math skills and training in CAD/CAM," says Roger McNeil, a manufacturing teacher at Central. "They can go anywhere in the industry. The sky's the limit."
The program is well received by employers, many of whom hire their apprentices. But many parents and educators still hesitate about the trades, believing they're only for lower-achieving students.
"One of the selling jobs I have is telling parents, teachers and guidance counsellors that this is an elite program," McNeil says. "Five years after leaving here, a student has the potential of earning $100,000 a year."
Bob Cake, owner of Tool Dynamics and a member of an apprenticeship council that interviews OYAP applicants, agrees.
"The students we're targeting have chosen not to go to university, not because they're not able to, but because they want to do something different," Cake says.
"Programs like OYAP are good for everyone, and I think industry is starting to recognize that more and more," he adds.
"You meet students and get them trained. As an employer, that's a good thing. You're not spending a lot of money training someone who may decide to leave after a year or who isn't the person you're looking you."
OYAP students enjoy a smooth transition from school to workplace. "They fast track into the industry and start making good money right away," Cake says, "all at virtually no cost."
(Linda White is a freelance writer based in
Brooklin, Ont. and can be reached at
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