Jamaican mechanics excel in Canada

Published: Sunday | February 3, 2013 Comments 0
Jamaican mechanics Andre (left), David (centre), Michael and Orville (stooping) in Saskatoon, Canada.
Jamaican mechanics Andre (left), David (centre), Michael and Orville (stooping) in Saskatoon, Canada.
The wharf in Kingston also utilises heavy-duty mechanics extensively.
The wharf in Kingston also utilises heavy-duty mechanics extensively.

Mechanic Michael Anderson and his colleagues are gathered in an apartment in Saskatoon, Canada, to 'row a boat' - the Jamaican expression for communal cooking and dining. The group of men arrived in Canada last summer from Jamaica to take up jobs as mechanics with transportation firms.

"This is a study group meeting. We are preparing for Red Seal certification," explained Anderson, who is employed to Trimac Transport Services. A graduate of the University of Technology Jamaica (UTech), Anderson worked formerly as a maintenance technician on heavy-duty vehicles at the Port of Kingston.

Anderson and his countrymen are intent on attaining the Red Seal, which is Canada's highest trade certification. Success in the examination will place the Jamaican mechanics' technical skills at the same standard as their Canadian counterparts and increase their earning power. In order to obtain their work permit and job confirmation, each Jamaican mechanic was assessed by the provincial apprenticeship or Red Seal body. It provides a letter indicating that he/she was eligible to write the Red Seal exam. The letter is also an indication that the mechanic's experience and credentials meet the requirement of a Journeyman Mechanic.

Much of the assessment took place during the months-long recruiting process while the mechanics were in Jamaica. In fact, some mechanics, like Alrick Cole, obtained Red Seal Certification while in Jamaica. The exam was conducted in Jamaica by officials of Keyano College in Alberta, Canada.

"The Red Seal training brings you up to speed with Canadian terminologies, which in several cases are different from terms used in Jamaica," explained Cole, who works for Edmonton-based National Tank Service, a division of Trimac. His experience in Jamaica involved working on flatbed trucks and containers, but in Canada he has adjusted his skills to repair valves on tanks that transport oil, concrete or chemicals.

The Jamaican-trained mechanics encountered technological challenges in their new working environment, but they were prepared for it.

"There is a knowledge gap, as the technology keeps changing. The trucks we worked on in Jamaica were not as advanced as these here," observed Anderson. "But the training we did in Jamaica with Keyano College and the orientation at Trimac has helped with the technology gap."

"In terms of the technical aspects of the job, I thought it would have been more challenging," remarked Meyck Littlejohn, who is attached to Trimac and based in Edmonton. "This is because most of the trucks here are new and under warranty, so we mainly do preventative maintenance rather than the engine rebuilding and in-depth repairs that we were accustomed to in Jamaica."

Positive experience

Littlejohn said the transition into the Canadian workforce has been a positive experience: "They realise that we have a very good work attitude. We have never been late for work. And they realise we know a lot of stuff and are still willing to learn."

He was bowled over by the reception he and colleagues received from respective employers, recruiting firm HireProDrivers, and the Jamaican liaison office of the Ministry of Labour. "The transition was made very easy for us in terms of living conditions. A representative of HireProDrivers met us at the airport on arrival. Later, we were provided with rented car for each household to commute to and from work," related Littlejohn. "The work reception has been good, honestly. We can't complain. The supervisor says he understands what it entails for someone to come and work in a foreign country. We feel quite at home."

With Red Seal certification out of the way for some mechanics, like Cole, they are now able to work on getting their provincial nomination for permanent residency, which will enable their family to join them.

Rohan Cato is hoping to reach that stage in the immigration process soon. Taking the Red Seal exam is one step towards that goal. "We have a professional lecturer from Keyano College who prepares us for the Red Seal exam, which we will take in June," disclosed Cato, who works on Caterpillar heavy-duty vehicles for Finning Canada.

He, too, was impressed by the reception received by his Canadian employers. "The team at Finning, despite being a large company, is friendly and welcoming, from HR to to the shop floor," remarked Cato. "They make you feel at home. Our transition has gone extremely well."

Attainment of Red Seal certification means a rise in recipients' earning power. Littlejohn noted that "all around Alberta there are help-wanted signs in my skill area. Back home you have one job and every day a cloud hangs over your head, because the job can go anytime, and there is doubt where the country is going economically".

  • From exam to medical

The recruitment process for mechanics covers an examination, telephone interview and medical examination. The steps are:

  • Applicants write a three-hour exam of 150 questions - assimilated off Red Seal syllabus - as part of the initial interview.
  • Applicants take the Red Seal preparatory course, administered by Keyano College. This course and the preparatory exam that followed were held at the Morgan's Harbour Hotel in Kingston.
  • Applications then go on to be interviewed by employers via telephone.
  • After extending a conditional job offer, the employer comes to Jamaica to conduct a second interview, including practical evaluation using equipment.
  • On passing this interview, job applicants receive a formal job offer.
  • Concurrent with this process, the apprenticeship body in Canada conducts its own verification on each applicant's credentials and experience.
  • All recruits must undergo a medical examination, including testing for drug and alcohol abuse.

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