Canadian Cyclist


January 14/09 10:38 am - Bicycle Industry Supports Mechanic Training Program

Posted by Editor on 01/14/09

Bicycle Industry Supports Mechanic Training Program

The Bicycle Assembly and Maintenance (BAM) project is set to launch in Toronto next month, due largely to the efforts of Rob White, Vice President and Principal of Outdoor Gear Canada. The genesis of the BAM project came as a result of numerous discussions that Rob had with owners and managers of representative specialty bicycle retailers across the country. They all shared a similar challenge.

Pete Lilly, owner of Sweet Pete's Bicycle Shop, and current President of The Bicycle Trade Association of Canada (BTAC), summarized the position of a typical bicycle retail store owner this way:

"In the decade-plus that I have been in the bicycle industry, without a doubt one of my toughest challenges has been to consistently staff my store with qualified mechanics.

It goes without question that there is a very strong need for a 'feeder system' that will continually put forth solid candidates to fill the voids in my store and others in the GTA.

And as the market grows, that need grows even greater!"

Retailers have been frustrated that there is no bicycle mechanic training available in Canada to provide potential entry-level mechanics with the necessary skills to allow them the head start that would lead to employment opportunities in the industry. The result was that significant time was required from existing highly skilled mechanics to bring new mechanics 'up to speed.' This was time that should have been spent dealing with customer service issues; thus adversely affecting the level of service deemed necessary by the retailers for the high level of customer satisfaction required to insure customer loyalty.

With the growing reality of the 'green' movement, the increasing commitments by local governments to build urban bicycle paths, and the heightened awareness and profile of the many benefits of cycling, solving this acute shortage was becoming a critical success factor to allow many retailers to effectively take advantage of the anticipated growth in bicycle ridership.

During the past year, as a result his family members becoming partners in Social Venture Partners, a not-for-profit organization focused on reducing the high incidence of unemployed youth in Toronto, Rob became aware of many of the difficulties faced by at-risk youth in the City. Many well motivated young adults, who have gotten off to a bad start during their growing-up years, were struggling to get back on their feet only to find that their lack of training and marketable skills were major impediments to launching a successful career. Although a number of organizations were in place to support these youth with various training programs, none provided bicycle mechanic instruction.

Rob sensed the possibility of a win/win opportunity to create a 'feeder system that could continually put forth solid mechanic candidates' to help satisfy the needs of the retailers, while providing an opportunity for the independent bicycle retailers to give a 'hand-up' to well-motivated but otherwise at-risk youth to launch new careers in the cycling industry.

A market study of representative retailers identified an annual requirement of between 50 and 100 new mechanics in the GTA, and as many as 1000 in the other major cities across Canada.

With the help of his family members, Rob set out to see if the needs of the bicycle retailers could somehow be met by trying to launch a training program geared specifically to the retailers' requirements. His focus was to attract well-motivated, bright, at-risk youth who would find a new career opportunity in the bicycle business to be both challenging and attractive. He thought it was a natural.

'Kids love bikes.' It's a fun space. And learning how to assemble and maintain bicycles not only had the promise of attractive employment opportunities with the dozens of specialty bicycle retailers that are located in virtually every town and city across the country, but also to hone technical skills that are transferable to many jobs and hobbies where mechanical assembly and repair aptitude are required.

Finding Partners
Rob canvassed leading manufacturers and retailers in the cycling industry to understand their requirements, determine their willingness to participate actively in a training initiative, and to gain commitments to underwrite the initial capital required to launch a program. Other family members undertook the task of finding partners who were able to provide the necessary facilities and support staff to manage and implement the program, once the requirements had been fully defined.

The Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF).

The search for a partner to house and administer the program led to The Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF). LEF's mandate is to enable individuals to become full participants in their communities social and economic development by offering a series of integrated programs such as: settlement services, language training, career counselling, skills training, job search support, community enterprise opportunities and child care.

LEF has had a focus since its inception of working with at-risk youth in the Greater Toronto Area. LEF actively seeks out co-operative relationships with local organizations and businesse to plan, develop and deliver innovative training programs to meet the specialized skill needs of individual businesses in the local community. In addition, LEF identifies and screens motivated candidates who both appear to have the required aptitude and the potential of a high probability of success after completing the targeted training. LEF also provides interview leads and hopefully, job placement for each graduate with the business partners who require the identified specialized skills.

Currently, LEF provides training in various food services' positions (including the daily preparation and delivery of more than 1500 meals for distribution to various not for profit agencies), framing and finish carpentry, warehouse operation - including certification in hands-on fork lift truck operation, introductory computer training, entrepreneurial skill development, and resume preparation for many thousands of clients each year.

With its staff of 297 employees and 300 volunteers, LEF operates much like the personnel and training departments of large corporations, but focuses on the specialized and unique requirements of many of the GTA's small and medium sized businesses and agencies. In addition to skills training, LEF has developed an innovative, community-driven, job search strategy designed to provide trained job seekers access to current job openings, and to provide them with the necessary interviewing and people skills to improve the odds of successfully landing the job and achieving success in their chosen field. Since its inception, LEF has provided training for and has helped place more than ten thousand individuals in various businesses throughout the GTA.

LEF is registered as a Private Career College with the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities.

The Cycling Industry Partners

Peter Frampton, the Executive Director of LEF, said "Our mandate is to marry the skill needs of GTA businesses with well trained candidates who have both the skills and motivation to be successful on the job. Thirty years of experience has demonstrated, time after time, the importance of local businesses driving our training initiatives. A program like BAM would only be successful if it had the unqualified support and cooperation of the cycling industry."

Rob made contact with the leading independent bicycle retailers in the GTA to both confirm their training requirements and enlist their support and participation. Meetings were held with the owners or managers of some of Toronto's most successful specialty bicycle retailers as well as Norco Performance Bikes, one of Canada's leading suppliers of bicycles and accessories.

The reaction was unanimous:

"It is our feeling that this program is one of great value - not only to the cycling community, but to the community at large. Please know that Duke's Cycle is fully behind this initiative and we are looking forward to working with LEF and Rob White on this project."

"I had the pleasure of listening to a proposal for a new bicycle mechanic program brought to us by Rob White ..... and we support this initiative."
- Barry Near - owner, Trek Bicycle Store of Toronto

"Recently, Rob White from OGC came to us with a proposal from the Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF) to bring a bicycle mechanics training program to the Toronto Area.

As a bicycle retailer, we are repeatedly faced with the need to hire trained mechanics. With the pressures of high staff turnover rates, increased bicycle traffic and service(a good thing), and the constantly changing technical environment, there is a significant pressure on us to find and retain quality staff; staff who are grounded in the basics of bicycle mechanics, and are ready to grow their knowledge at an independent retailer.
This is a great opportunity to have a program in our city which teaches the basic skills required to assemble and service bicycles.

We would welcome such a program enthusiastically and would see ourselves looking to graduates of this program as future employees of our organization."
- Sporting Life

"In discussions with Rob White regarding LEF and the BAM program, I have been satisfied at every turn that his proposal is well thought out, easily executable given the partners with whom he has aligned, and will produce very positive results for GTA Independent Bicycle Dealers and, subsequently, the bicycle community as well.

I am pleased that someone has developed an idea to address a dire need."
- Sweet Pete's Bicycle Shop

"The purpose of this letter is to confirm Norco's support for the Bicycle Assembly & Mechanic Training Program (BAM) that has been proposed by the Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF) and Rob White / OGC.

This program has Norco's full support as it offers creditability to the industry. It provides an ideal training ground for interested candidates who are not sure where to go and would allow those within the industry to direct people to the proper channels. It helps the independent bike dealer who currently hires and then has to do the training themselves, taking away from valuable productive working hours. It is also challenging for seasonal work where again the bike dealer has to spend lots of time training.

Norco is behind it because it provides experience, strong structure and good partnerships within a growing industry. And through co-operative programs, many opportunities that were not there before, are now created.
With LEF's lengthy experience, we at Norco are confident that they can develop the candidates to meet the needs of the industry."
- Norco Performance Bikes

"For years Independent Bicycle Dealers (IBDs) from across Canada have voiced their concern that there are not enough trained bicycle mechanics to meet their growing needs. This problem stems from the lack of bicycle mechanic training programs that are available.

As our industry strives to get more people on bikes more often, we have to be thoughtful of the growing infrastructure that goes along with it. Part of that infrastructure is the growing need for more and more trained bicycle mechanics.

The Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF) is the perfect partner for this program. They have been involved with similar skills training programs for over 30 years. They are set up to find students; train them in bicycle mechanics, life skills and St John's Ambulance training as well as placing students in jobs upon graduation. This is what they do. LEF is very excited to add bicycle mechanics to their mix."
- Outdoor Gear Canada

All the required partners seemed to be lining up. As the detailed requirements evolved, it appeared that an eight week co-op program involving ten students per class was optimum. The curriculum now under development will include four weeks of basic training, including two days of specialized instruction at Norco's Toronto location.

This will be followed by two weeks hands-on experience in one of the sponsoring retailers' shops, followed by the final two weeks back at LEF for an assignment that will involve rebuilding of a used bike that the student would take with him or her on graduation. The participating retailers are particularly enthusiastic about the co-op period, because it will provide them with the opportunity to assess the students not only on their acquired skills, but also their potential as permanent employees after completion of the program.

Both the dealers and the suppliers have agreed to spend time in the classroom discussing opportunities in the industry and lecturing on the 'soft' skills required to compliment technical capabilities. All of the sponsors have also agreed to help establish a BAM Advisory Council to work with LEF in insuring the program meets industry needs, as well as providing feedback and suggestions for changes as to the content of the program.

With the unqualified support of the industry, LEF endorsed the program and Peter Frampton set his organization in motion to staff and house the project in their Industry Street location. In the past, LEF had partnered with Alan Crawford of the City of Toronto on similar youth-oriented programs, and with his enthusiastic endorsement, he obtained the support and encouragement of the City of Toronto's Parks, Forestry and Recreation Department, as well as that of the Department of Transportation Services.

Crawford's long standing interest in cycling initiatives in the City led to the identification of a highly qualified instructor. Suitable workshop space was identified at LEF and an energetic project manager with a solid track record of working with at-risk youth was seconded to the project. His goal is to be up and running with the first class in February, 2009, so that the first ten graduates would be available for placement in bike shops coincident with beginning of the spring cycling season. The current plan will be to run four or five programs each year resulting in between 40 and 50 new mechanics available to support the GTA retailer's needs.

The industry sponsors have agreed to finance the outfitting of the work shop with the necessary tools, spare parts and fixtures, and to provide ten new bicycles for use by the first class of trainees.

Frampton commented, "With the enthusiastic endorsement and support of the GTA retailers and two of the leading industry suppliers, this project has the hallmarks of becoming another highly successful LEF partnership. Our thanks to Rob White and his family for spearheading this initiative and shepherding it to fruition. We can hardly wait to get started."

What's Next?

Although not even being close to being able to say "Mission Accomplished", the industry suppliers are anxious to explore opportunities to expand the initiative, after it has been shaken down in Toronto, to other cities across Canada. The next candidates will, no doubt, be Montreal and Vancouver, in as much as the headquarters of the two sponsoring suppliers are in these two cities.

The Bicycle Trade Association of Canada (BTAC), one of the supporters of the BAM initiative, has received non-exclusive rights to all of the intellectual property that will be developed at LEF during the life of the project for unrestricted use in other locations. BTAC sees the opportunity as of significant importance and value to the more than 1200 bicycle retailers across Canada.

Peter Frampton has also agreed, through LEF's association with the Canadian Community Economic Development Network, to identify and make contact with agencies similar to LEF in other Canadian cities and encourage them to visit the BAM project in March to determine its suitability for implementation in their facilities in Vancouver and Montreal.

Expansion to other cities will be considered based on the program's success in Toronto and hopefully there will soon be successful start-ups in Montreal and Vancouver.

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