Free vo-tech skills are offered

A proactive approach on the part of one local business, merged with the effort from a few determined youths, has inspired a promising auto-mechanics training initiative.

Superior Auto owners Mark and Denise DeMercado committed to the venture some years ago.

“Somebody needed to reach out and help our young people, especially those unable to attend school overseas,” said Mr. DeMercado.

The end results were reviewed by National Youth Commission members when they visited the training site earlier this month.

It was last September that the couple opened the Superior Auto Training Programme at their full-service garage. Their formula for a small automotive trade school was simple: Provide free training – accredited by the Jamaican German Automotive School to interested youth.

Volunteers, staff members and the DeMarcados conduct classes 8am to 3pm each weekday and there is a balance between classroom and hands-on learning.

Six young men enrolled last year, but the number dwindled to three dedicated students, Christopher Jackson, Leandru Ebanks and Giovanni Ordonez. They were joined this month by Jessica Dixon. She will continue in September.

“You have to learn in order to earn,” master mechanic Mark advised the recruits. “And you can do that by working hard and proving yourselves.”

Explaining why he and his wife had started the project, Mr. DeMercado said he had benefited from a similar initiative in Jamaica. He too received his certification from the Jamaican German Automotive School, an institution that has produced hundreds of professionals and mechanics.

As in Jamaica, the Cayman syllabus includes mandatory core subjects – maths, English, technical drawing, science and physics. All must be passed before students can be certified.

As and independent commission, the NYC monitors and advises on the statistics of young people and advocates for developing positive solutions to their needs.

“I look forward to the day when I can have my car serviced by one of these ambitious young mechanics,” said NYC Chairperson Jenny Manderson.

She was accompanied by Senior Policy Advisor Joel Francis of the Ministry of Health, Environment, Youth, Sports and Culture; Head of the Youth Services Unit Katherine Whittaker; National Drug Council Executive Director Joan West-Dacres and others.

Congratulating all involved, Ms Manderson added, “I commend the DeMercado’s initiative and laud the sponsors who make this training possible. The participants and their parents should certainly feel proud to be involved.

“I urge more enterprises to step forward to craft public and private sector partnerships in areas that can provide training opportunities and recognised tech-voc qualifications.”

During their tour, visitors learned that Superior Auto aims to develop a pool of local mechanics, but that with this in mind, the initial group of students still has a way to go before they can be assessed as being technically competent.

They must first pass 30 JAGAS classes with minimum scores of 70 per cent, in order to become level-one mechanic helpers. After that, they must serve as apprentices for three full years while gaining level three certification, with which they can work in a leadership capacity.

The Cayman programme however, does not have an accelerated component, and covers only levels one and two simultaneously, as explained by volunteer coordinator Levi Allen – a staffer of Superior Autos.

“Those with sufficient aptitude can come out with a level-two qualification by next year,” he said, adding that others will at least have acquired basic competency.

While the ultimate goal is long term success, some more immediate rewards may also occur. For example the DeMercados will keep one of the first trainees on-staff after the level-one training is completed this summer.

In the coming school year the Superior Auto programme will accommodate 10 students. Twice that number have applied to attend.

During the initial year, the DeMercados did receive some help for the youths to sit JAGAS examinations in Jamaica. Rotary Sunrise sponsored the June trip to Jamaica. Additionally, PriceWaterHouseCoopers has already contributed toward the summer exams. More help is needed however, for the not-for-profit training programme.