Student driven by HHSS co-op placement
By Darren Lum
The following is part of a series of co-op placement stories, featuring Haliburton Highlands Secondary School students and area employers in Haliburton County. Open to Grade 11 and 12 students, the co-op program enables students to earn high school credits by integrating course curriculum with learning at a work placement.
Crouched between an ATV and a dirt bike at Harcourt Park Marina, Michael Rogers is exactly where he wants to be and that’s developing his skills and earning the hours towards his dream of becoming a mechanic.
The Grade 12 Haliburton Highlands Secondary School student from Wilberforce has always loved tinkering with engines. It started when he was about five and then evolved, particularly when he got his first dirt bike at eight, a two-stroke YZ85.
Working on engines was part of a lineage he couldn’t deny, with his grandfather and father both making a living under the hood of vehicles as mechanics.
“It runs through the family. [My dad] was always working on stuff and I’d always be out there and I got into it. Now I have my own stuff,” he said, referring to his dirt bike, vehicles such as a car, truck, ATV and snowmobile.
Another factor was his affinity for the work and getting to work with his hands. There is also a level of pride that comes with completing a job on a vehicle, he said.
“When you actually fix something and you do it yourself. You’re proud of it,” he said.
The apprenticeship provides him hands-on learning, which is something he prefers to being in class.
Before he started his co-op he hadn’t worked on cars because up until seven months ago he didn’t have his driving licence. The work he has performed at the marina included repair work such as replacing parts, changing brakes installing exhaust systems. While doing this work, with the variety of models he has worked on has meant encountering challenges and figuring out resolutions, first on his own and then checking with his boss.
With this apprenticeship, Michael is part-way through his three-year apprenticeship to earn a marine technician certificate, including four high school credits. The placement ended in January, so he has returned to school to get three academic credits: two English and one math.
Harcourt Park Marina co-owners and husband Ron Goessele and wife Ann Corrigan are happy about enabling Michael the chance to continue his development and to contribute to his career goal.
Goessele said providing this opportunity is as much to help Michael with his goals, as it is to strengthen the future of the trades industry in the Highlands.
“We’re severely lacking in skilled trades, so anything I can do to help that out to help with the problem is a good thing. It’s not just this end of the county. It’s the whole county,” he said. “I’ve been trying to hire an experienced licensed mechanic because I have other business interests as well and it’s impossible. I’ve been trying for three years and you can’t hire a mechanic. Basically, guys like me at my age  we’re still in it going hard and we don’t want to be.”
He adds there is upwards of a three month waiting list for boat engine or body work in the Highlands. Michael’s addition to the Harcourt business means he’s actively helping fill some of the demand.
Trades such as the automotive mechanic world has professionals aging out, looking to retire like Goessele. This is the reality facing marinas throughout the Highlands, he added.
“We don’t mind doing the work, the work that we can do. But after 40 years of being bent over, my back is not allowing me to do that stuff anymore, so I want to hire a guy,” he said.
He said the variety of skills he has acquired over his four decades in the trade industry, whether it was in welding, body work, plastics factory work, engine repair, airplane building is something that has helped him and gave him the confidence to move up here from the city.
When he was ready to move out of Toronto with Ann to start a new life these trade skills enabled that transition to running a business in the country. Ann and Ron came to the area in 2003 to buy the Harcourt Park General Store and added the mechanic services.
Career paths, Goessele said, are not always linear and the trades affords options and opportunity.
“He might not stick with this trade, but if he gets this trade like I did it’s a fallback. It’s a fallback for me. I built airplanes at De Havilland [Aircraft of Canada] in Toronto. When I got away from that we bought this place and I had my trade licence for here. He might not do this for the rest of his life. He might become an automotive mechanic. He might be a heavy equipment mechanic. You never know. It could be he gets to work on machinery in a factory, but it’s a good start for him and it’s a fallback,” he said.
His career path included being a marine mechanic before he worked for De Havilland, a well-known aircraft manufacturer.
The Harcourt Park Marine welcomes apprentices, who are ready to learn and work.
“As long as they’re motivated. They gotta be motivated. If you’re pushing the kid into it, then forget it. It’s not going to happen. They got to want to work,” Goessele said.
This is the third apprentice that the business has hosted. They’re open to more students, whether it’s a young person who has finished secondary school or attending Haliburton Highlands Secondary School.
The co-op placement at the Harcourt business is about empowering through independent work.
“You got to allow them to think on their own. If I have to watch over them, and micromanage, then I might as well as do the work myself,” Goessele said.
It’s this aspect that is part of the learning process, he said. To know when to work through a problem independently and when to ask someone for help, which he encourages when their student has exhausted all their options.
Take Michael, Corrigan said.
“Now Michael is able to work on his own, but he’s really good at knowing when he might be out of his depth … And that’s a really important skill. That’s a really important thing to know when you are [learning] … it’s all about everyone continuously learning.”
The Grade 12 student returned for a second year of co-op to further his skill set in a place that was accepting and where he felt comfortable.
The idea to constantly be improving is an aspect that was integral to her husband’s career path and is something that was part of the education for Michael.
“Michael has to have the same attitude. Like Ron doesn’t know everything. He just knows how to get to answers. Right, that’s why we have all manuals, all the computers, and all of those things. That’s a really important part. The old ones, who we call beer bottle and hammer mechanics, you know, the ones that only [tinker] or think they know it all and really don’t. Anybody that says they know everything is really boring as far as I’m concerned,” Corrigan said.
She adds this applies to all industries.
Michael said having his apprenticeship a short drive from his Wilberforce home was a convenience not lost on him.
The development of career skills was just part of what was learned for Michael.
When he was younger Michael was quite shy and this experience over the two years he has been apprenticing (over two separate school years) has bolstered his confidence to deal with people.
“It’s been an amazing experience. Learning all about stuff I didn’t know before [such as] engines. Getting the interactions with people like storing 200 boats. You meet at least 150 people,” he said.
The range of experiences, particularly the interactions wasn’t something he expected, but it presented itself at the very start and he recognized the benefits.
Michael’s time at the marina actually started before the placement when he worked for them in the spring, with unwrapping and delivering boats to customers.
Corrigan, who worked for close to 15 years in human resources at a large company in Toronto, said the customers all appreciate how the marina is hosting an apprentice.
The Grade 12 student encourages other students, who are interested in in-person and on the job training to apprentice.
“You don’t learn anything like you learn here [when compared] to a class room,” he said.
With his apprenticeship program, he’ll leave high school and go to college for close to three months. He has yet to decide which one.
Michael said he may love what he does, but he also recognizes how his choice to pursue being a mechanic will help to fill the growing demand for trades.
Knowing about this demand, he doesn’t hesitate to endorse it as a viable career future for other young people, who are interested.
“If you’re interested in it, try for it because they’re always going to be there. They’re always needed.”