Trevor Rea-Stewart, a fourth-year automotive apprentice student, has noticed a huge difference following renovations to the automotive building. Vancouver Island University photo

Renovated auto shop helps VIU drive automotive program forward

Project part of $20-million marine, automotive and trades complex expansion and redevelopment

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An overhaul of Vancouver Island University’s automotive building is intended to drive the program forward.

The renovations are part of the $20-million marine, automotive and trades complex expansion and redevelopment project announced in December 2016 by the federal and provincial governments.

The automotive building renovations include a 225-square-metre addition with a larger tool crib and an apprenticeship lab; a renovated customer service area designed to look like a dealership; a reconfigured shop area that now fits up to 24 vehicles compared to 16 in the former layout; and renovated classroom spaces.

“It’s a whole new shop inside,” said Dean Cadieux, automotive program chairman. “The building was built in 1972 and the general consensus was it had to be replaced, but the structure is still good, so they kept that and rebuilt everything else.”

Trevor Rea-Stewart, a fourth-year automotive apprentice student, has noticed a huge difference with the renovated space.

“It’s much more open and a lot less crowded,” he says. “Everything is laid out a lot better too – for example, the tool crib is more centrally located so it’s easier to access. It makes me feel like the community cares about this place … Having a really well-built facility shows that they think it’s important.”

The renovations include a new lab for apprentice students that is separate from the main shop, where the foundation students are trained. The 10-month foundation program prepares students to find work as an automotive apprentice or as a trainee parts person or service advisor, and the apprenticeship program includes four levels of technical training for practicing automotive service technicians who are working toward Red Seal certification.

The new configuration and extra space will allow the program to add more students, which Rea-Stewart says will help future students get educated faster – he was on a wait list for two years before getting into the program.

Cadieux says up until now capacity was one class of 36 foundation students and 96 apprenticeship students per year. Now the program could add an extra foundation class and an extra apprenticeship class of 16 students.

Keith Ladouceur, fixed operations manager for GAIN Automotive Group, which oversees the BMW, Mercedes Benz and Subaru dealerships in Nanaimo, says local dealerships are dependent on the workforce the university produces.

“The automotive industry has changed so rapidly in the last 20 years – the complexities of the systems technicians are dealing with now is staggering,” says Ladouceur, who is also chair of the VIU automotive program advisory committee. “This type of work is now dependent on continued learning.”

Funding for the project comes through the federal government’s post secondary institutions strategic investment fund, the provincial government and VIU community partners.

The marine, automotive and trades complex project also includes a new building for the carpentry program, and renovations to the heavy mechanical building to add an LNG/CNG bay and move the motorcycle and marine technician program next door to take advantage of similar technology needs the two programs have.

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