The tantalizing smell of fresh-baked cookies wafted through the sunny lobby. A line of small children toddled by holding hands and giggling.
Young women and men in kitchen whites carried trays of heaven-scented gourmet delights past me into the café off the lobby.
Despite the bitter cold outside, everyone was smiling, bustling about, waving hello to each other and greeting Gord MacKenzie, with whom I was sitting.
I felt I had dropped into a welcoming productive village, a real working community.
I was in the lobby of the Akerley Campus of Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) being regaled by Gord, academic chair of trades and technology. Gord oversees the automotive power programming at the campus and college level.
We were about to embark on a tour of the college’s workshops, labs and classrooms so I could get a taste of what happens here, including pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship training for automotive service and repair, motor vehicle body repair and heavy duty equipment/truck and transport repair.
When you bring your vehicle in for service or maintenance, chances are your technician has been trained and educated at Akerley Campus, one of six campuses in Nova Scotia that offer these programs.
Because the programs devote a high percentage of course time to hands-on, practical experience, there is an obvious need for vehicles that can be torn apart, repaired and put back together again. Without this physical aspect, students would have a difficult time translating what they learn in theory to a real vehicle repair shop.
So how does the college procure vehicles required to train and teach upcoming and current technicians? Well, many roads can lead a car or truck to the Akerley Campus.
Last year, around this time, Gord said, he was having a telephone conversation with the folks at Mitsubishi Canada. Like other car manufacturers that use space at the college to train their own technicians on new vehicle technologies, Mitsubishi was looking for space and wanted to work out a deal.
“I told them, jokingly, give me a call if a vehicle ever falls off a truck or something,” he said.
Two weeks to the day later, another call from Mitsubishi: “How about a brand new Outlander PHEV?”
A recent minor derailment at a train yard in Montreal resulted in no human injuries but six Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV vehicles were damaged. A PHEV, plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, is a hybrid electric vehicle whose battery can be recharged by plugging it into an external source of electric power as well by its on-board engine and generator.
Mitsubishi Motors Canada decided to donate the six vehicles to colleges with automotive power programs, including Akerley Campus, across Eastern Canada. Since the damage was exterior and the interior battery and other systems were intact, the Outlander PHEV, with its twin electric motors and advanced electric powertrain, offered excellent training opportunities.
Gord stressed the significance of this donation, used in the Level 3 Apprenticeship program, because, as technologies change, especially with the deluge of electric vehicles coming to market, the importance of teaching safety precautions to training technicians is paramount.
Even though electric vehicle systems vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, access to even one of these types of vehicles for technicians that will ultimately tune and repair them is invaluable in mitigating fear of the unknown when it comes to how these systems work, what wires you can touch and how to safely repair them.
All NSCC campuses with courses in automotive service and repair, motor vehicle body repair and heavy duty equipment/truck and transport repair are in need of this type of donation, which flows through the NSCC Foundation, the fundraising arm of NSCC.
The donated Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is adding real value to the programs in emphasizing not only their technical and mechanical aspects but also safety which, according to Gord, is the primary lesson being taught on these systems.
The Akerley campus has about 65 vehicles available for hands-on study in campus labs where instructors put bugs in the systems and students learn to troubleshoot, figure out where and what the bug is and how to fix it.
Of those 65 vehicles, I’m surprised that, besides a 2012 Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius, the Outlander is the only plug-in EV the college has. Budget plays a huge role in a community college’s ability to purchase educational resources needed for applied study of the newest vehicle technologies.
As we walked through many of the workshops and classrooms, the hum of activity was infectious. Instructors walked around, working one-on-one with students.
I loved the body repair shop. Among seven or so vehicles in various stages of repair, students worked away wearing ventilation masks, consulting with their instructor. I could sense a genuine desire to learn and experience tangible evidence of their creativity and hard work.
My favourite room was the service centre, with 12 service bays on one side of the cavernous space and a gargantuan heavy-duty transport truck repair centre on the other.
Forty or so young men and women (mostly men I have to say) were just wrapping up for lunch. What were they working on? Gord asked one of the students. “We just finished wheel bearings. Next is steering systems.”
All around NSCC’s Akerley Campus was a sense of community, a buzz of industriousness and a feeling of purpose.
Donations, like the Outlander PHEV from Mitsubishi Canada help serve an important purpose beyond the walls of the college in the larger community of the automotive industry.
Donated vehicles are mutually beneficial for the donors, the college, the students, the dealerships and repair shops that hire these men and women, and you and I when our vehicles need care and repair.
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