HWP apprentices kick-starting their careers
An industrial apprenticeship may not be easy but it is paying off for one Bermudian.
Andrew Francis, 23, has just been promoted to junior tradesman at car dealership HWP after five years as an apprentice in the firm's workshop.
Mr Francis recently returned from Miami where he attended the Caribbean region's Honda training facility for two weeks to undergo intense technical training. Honda is one of the largest car manufacturers in the world.
Mr Francis had to complete online prerequisites and then did his on-site training for two weeks, working from 8am to 6pm and on the weekends.
He was certified in electrical fundamentals, electric systems, electrical advanced and fuel emissions basics. The ultimate goal of his training is to eventually become a master technician, a profession that is in great demand around the world and has the earning potential of between $90,000 to $150,000, depending on the company.
Though Lenny Henderson, HWP's technical trainer, offers in-house training, going overseas and obtaining manufacturer instruction every year is a must.
“Technology is changing so fast; it is ever evolving,” he said. “I've been in this business for 37 years and every day I am finding new things to learn.”
A car is no longer a hunk of metal that can be dabbled with by a part-time hobbyist. According to Mr Henderson, today's vehicles are high-tech, computer-based machines that require ongoing, continuous training.
“It's not like the old days where you could tinker around — you can't do that now. It's crazy how fast technology is changing,” he said.
HWP's workshop now consists of 14 staff, four of which (the apprentices) are Bermudian. The company is working with the National Training Board to help finance the apprentices' continued training and keep track of their progress.
“It is important for industry to continue to grow the talent here on Island to ensure sustainability,” said Pandora Glasford of the NTB. “Each of the trainees at HWP has a training and assessment officer assigned to them. The officer is expected to monitor the progress of the apprentice/trainee to ensure that the role of the employer and apprentice/trainee is realised.”
According to Mr Henderson, as a direct result of Mr Francis's training, the apprentice was promoted to junior tradesman and is on track to become a master technician in the years to come.
“We have to make sure for our clients that we have the right professionals in place,” said Mr Henderson. “We're making sure we are giving them every chance, every opportunity to learn. You can't sustain a dealership without proper technicians in the workshop.”
He added that two high school girls are currently interested in the automotive field and having been coming by the workshop to learn more about a potential career.
Mr Henderson welcomes the diversity.
“There is no reason why women can't do this job, it's very high tech and there's a whole job based around diagnostics,” he said.
Attending CedarBridge but graduating from the Adult Education Centre and then the New England Institute of Technology (NEIT), the young Mr Francis said he knew he would end up in a technical career like this.
“I always had a knack for mechanical stuff — starting with bikes when I was younger which led into cars,” he said. “It was a natural direction for me. It is very technical — I will never be finished with my training but I always knew I would do this.”
The three other Bermudian apprentices at HWP include Calvin Thomas, who in July will start a two-week training course in the UK for Volkswagen; Dejon Carey who is potentially pursuing a specialisation in Hyundai or Suzuki cars and Victor Fishington who just came back from the New England Institute of Technology.
All apprentices have to obtain a university degree — and most seem to graduate from NEIT, a private technical college in Rhode Island with more than 3,000 students pursuing Associate's and Bachelor's degrees in over 30 programmes.
Patrice Minors, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, also commended Mr Francis for his accomplishment.
“All of Bermuda should feel tremendously proud of Andrew Francis' achievement. He is the quintessential example of what can be accomplished when the right training, hard work and discipline are applied,” she said. “I want to commend both the HWP Group and the NTB team for their dedication and support in the development of not only Mr Francis, but of all the Bermudians who have passed through their training and work programmes.”