Student mechanics duel at Auto Show

Iftikhar Shaikh’s has dirt under his fingernails. His hands are scratched from working in tight spaces. Beads of sweat dot his forehead.

But Shaikh, 16, a Grade 10 student at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute in Toronto, doesn’t mind. He’s just happy to be here.

“Where else would you get this in real life?” he said.

Media day at the 2010 Canadian International Auto Show on Feb. 11 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre featured the 11th annual Toronto Automotive Technology Competition.

Organized by Centennial College, the contest involves 18 pairs of GTA high school students competing for prizes and a trip to the nationals in April. Students from Grades 10-12 are hand-picked by their instructors to participate.

Dave Samalea is a professor at Centennial, as well as the co-ordinator of the school’s automotive and motorcycle programs. He’s been involved with the competition ever since its inception in 1999.

“The two top placed schools from this competition will receive vehicles from GM to work on in their (school’s) shops,” he said. “The two top students get to go to New York for the national competition, which takes place at the New York Auto Show.”

The New York event features prizes worth $3 million.

The Toronto competition consisted of troubleshooting five 2010 Volkswagen Beetle convertibles with problems ranging from tops that wouldn’t close to a no-start situation. Teams had 20 minutes at each car to identify and fix the various problems. However, fixing the most problems was not necessarily the goal; fixing them properly held more importance in the eyes of the Centennial College students and professors that judged each team.

As well as testing mechanic skills, the competition had participants writing an exam and according to Samalea, it was no picnic either.

“The theory exam is 50 questions in one hour, normally. Here, we give them 20 minutes. No pressure,” he said.

Volkswagen Canada sponsored the eventand provided the cars on which the students were tested.

John Macleod from Volkswagen feels that this event is a two-way street.

“It’s beneficial for the brand. These (students) are the best and brightest coming out of high school,” he said. “We’re walking around here and having a dialogue with (them). Last year…we ended up hiring three of these kids as apprentice technicians.”

This year, John Gonsalves and James Bachiller, two 17-year-olds from Jean Vanier Catholic Secondary School in Scarborough took top honours. Each student received sponsor prizes, a trophy, a $750 scholarship to any Centennial College Transportation program and an all-expenses-paid trip to the nationals in New York. Gonsalves was naturally pleased.

“This was hanging on my mind all night last night. I couldn’t sleep,” he said. “I really can’t believe it.”

Meanwhile, Shaikh and his partner Mohammad Baloch, 16, finished fourth overall in this, their first year of competition. For their efforts, they each went home with a Mastercraft tool set, a Snap-On tools ratchet set, a hat, a t-shirt and a certificate of accomplishment.

“That’s a big accomplishment,” Shaikh said. “We feel proud and respected because we were the only ones selected in our school…We can’t wait to be back next year.”

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