New apprenticeship centre opens in George Town

Cutting the ribbon at the opening of the training centre are, from left, Joan Findlay, director of HEART Trust/NTA, Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, Superior Auto’s Denise DeMercado, HEART Trust/NTA’s Kenesha Campbell and Superior Auto’s Mark DeMercado. – Photo: Jewel Levy

Superior Auto opened a new technical training centre on Seymour Road Wednesday.

The two-storey learning centre houses a technology room, workshop, library and two classrooms named in honour of past students Damian Rose and David Ebanks, who passed away under tragic circumstances.

Thirty-six young people have so far signed up for the new programme, which can accommodate up to 20 students at a time.

The programme, designed to train automotive technicians, will deliver apprenticeship training through classroom and workshop sessions. Students will also learn mathematics, English and technical drawing.

The programme has been expanded to include furniture making, plumbing, air conditioning, technology and other technical skills.

“In 2009, a young man named Christopher Jackson approached me asking for a job. I asked him what he could do. His response was he could fix cars. I responded that I could not employ him with just his love for fixing cars without training,” said Denise DeMercado of Superior Auto, who founded the centre along with husband Mark in 1995.

“In his eyes I saw rejection and disappointment. This stirred me to give a chance to Christopher and other young men like him who want to work in the trade of auto mechanics. This was the birth of Superior Auto Training Centre,” she said.

She added that the programme started in a little room attached to their garage, with no cost for the apprenticeship.

“To date, 42 Caymanian young people have found purpose and fulfilment as technicians in various fields as mechanics, welders, small engine technicians and self-employed mobile mechanics and auto parts service representatives because of the programme,” she said.

Several government officials were on hand for the opening, with DeMercado noting the programme has been fully supported by government and others in the community since its inception.

Courses were free when the programme first started, but now that Superior Auto has built the new building, there will be an associated cost, she said. She hopes they can continue to get sponsorship for students.

Caymanian student Sean Reid, 28, said it was not every day that he found a group that was willing and dedicated to assist other individuals, especially when some have an extensive list of past mistakes.

Before the programme, he said, he was one of those individuals.

Reid said he got encouragement from his mother to join the programme. Little did he know, he said, that it would be one of his best decisions.

During his time in the programme, he gained a great deal of knowledge and understanding, not just in mechanics but in other areas, such as proper writing and communication skills, he said.

The new training centre is located on Seymour Road, George Town. -Photo: Jewel Levy

Classmates encouraged and supported one another, he added.

“No matter what negativity … is in your life right now, you can achieve your goals, but only if you believe that you can,” Reid said to the prospective students.

Student Michael Jefferson said the programme helped steer him in the right direction.

When he was younger, he said, it was much easier to find his way into a life of crime by following bad company.

Because of the programme, he was happy to say he was now an entrepreneur of not one company but three.

Student Percival Williams said he was glad for the push from the programme.

Given the opportunity, especially after coming from a past with many mistakes, Williams saw his future raised to enable him to assist his children.

He thanked the DeMercados, government, clubs, associations and loan supporters RBC Royal Bank (Cayman), for giving them a new place to study.

Derren Burlington said every time he speaks of the training centre he sees the happiness in his son’s eyes.

“He is a graduate from the training centre and he now works at Caribbean Utilities Company and he loves his job,” he said.

Vincent Ramgeet, mathematics volunteer instructor, said they felt they were giving the students self-worth and a true feeling of pride in contributing towards carving out a life for themselves and, as a result, for generations to come.

“Every time we see our trainees in the community, they positively walk over to us, whether be it at the supermarket or someplace else, and say, ‘Hi sir, I’m now working at Cayman Airways, Vampt Motors or someplace else.’ It’s a feeling that we get that’s incredibly indescribable. It’s this feeling of gratification that keeps us wanting to do more,” Ramgeet said.

Kenesha Campbell, director of national training at Jamaica’s Human Employment and Resource Training Trust/National Training Agency (HEART Trust/NTA), congratulated the DeMercados on their achievement.

The programme taught at Superior Auto is an internationally recognised programme in automotive repair technology and other marketable skills, accredited by the Jamaican German Automotive School (JAGAS) and the HEART Trust/NTA.