Toronto’s Central Tech operates 24 hours a day, pays students $6,000 a week, turns out shilled hands for our factories and fighting forces—and it’s but one of ninetytwo similar schools
JAMES GILLESPIE is an urbane, plump and grey-haired veteran of the first World War who, through an odd blending of fortuitous circumstances, finds himself occupying the office of principal of Toronto’s Central Technical School. Shortly after 1941 had given way to 1942 Principal Gillespie took time out to make a year-end survey of his academy of learning.
What he discovered caused him some astonishment. Since August 1940, when Central Tech plunged into the national war effort with all its four floors and basement, so many queer things had happened so fast that Principal Gillespie had hardly realized they were happening, although he himself had been mainly responsible for their occurrence.
At the turn of the year Central Tech had 5,083 regular students, mostly teen-age boys and girls, enrolled in its day and evening classes. But in addition 1,135 students were taking special courses of instruction under the War Emergency Training Program. And Principal Gillespie, who is also School Director of War Emergency Training, found that he was operating his school on a twentyfour hour basis, with classes studying in three shifts—from 8.45 a.m. to 3 p.m.; from 3.30 p.m. to 11.20 p.m.; and from 11.30 p.m. to 7.30 a.m.
He found that his instructors were teaching more than forty different subjects. Besides the customary schedule of vocational training in various branches of mechanics, woodworking, metalworking, radio, home economics and the like, there were classes in such unusual occupations as glass blowing, fuse making, technical chemistry, precision instrument work and meter assembly.
The survey showed that Central Tech had supplied junior ground engineers for thirteen
different airports operating under the Commonwealth Air Training scheme, ranging from St. Hubert, Que., to Goderich, Ont., among them the Norwegian training school at Toronto’s Island airport.
Training in airplane construction had been or was being given to classes sponsored by four different aircraft manufacturers operating six different plants, and by six firms making instruments, radio equipment and other aircraft fittings. Twenty-five industrial organizations busy with war production, and the Federal Government, had sponsored classes in eighteen assorted trades, the Dominion Meteorological Bureau requiring precision instrument workers. Included in the sponsored courses was one to teach women sheet metalworking, not commonly regarded as a feminine occupation.
For the Royal Canadian Air Force, pre-enlistment training courses in four different subjects have been set up. Fifteen trades are being taught to enlisted men of the Canadian Army, ranging from Diesel engineering to cookery, and including blacksmithing, plumbing and bricklaying. A class of women cooks is receiving instruction in preparation for service with the Canadian Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.
As Director James Gillespie makes the rounds of his classrooms these days he observes many strange things that were not there in peacetime. He sees baldish oldsters taking instruction from expert striplings young enough to be their grandsons. Dignified white-haired matronsare learning to make and assemble instruments as delicately balanced as the finest watch, side by side with pert misses wearing slacks and masculine coveralls. Army and Air Force uniforms are everywhere.
Students taking war training are paid for their
time. The idea of a weekly pay roll running between $5,000 and $6,000 is something new in James Gillespie’s pedagogic experience. Perhaps more than any other single factor the sight of his pupils lining up every Tuesday for their pay envelopes serves to impress upon the principal the truth that life at Central Tech is not at all like it used to be.
Altogether ninety-two technical and vocational schools scattered through eight Canadian provinces are co-operating in the War Emergency Program. Ontario tops the list with twenty-nine schools. Quebec has twenty. Figures for the other provinces vary from eleven schools in British Columbia to three in Nova Scotia. There is none in Prince Edward Island.
Of them all, Principal Gillespie believes his Central Tech has the biggest enrolment, offers the widest variety of subjects, gives the greatest number of man-hours of instruction. Central Tech teaches one fifth of all the war trainees receiving instruction in the twenty-nine Ontario technical schools. Since the summer of 1940, when the plan was inaugurated, Central Tech has trained and placed more than 5,000 men with the armed forces and firms making war materials. Of that total only eighteen were unemployed at the beginning of 1942.
Day and Night
CENTRAL TECH by day and Central Tech by night are two different schools, and provide an interesting contrast in teaching technique and student temperament. While the regular classes are in session Central Tech is like any other vocational school, only bigger than most. Ado-
lescent boys and girls sit in the classrooms or cluster around workshop benches concerned with the often boresome business of absorbing an education. Between classes and at recess periods the corridors are thronged with carefree youngsters wise-cracking, dating, trading school gossip, arguing about hockey and basketball, reading notice-board bulletins about coming dances and skating parties.
At night the picture changes as completely as though the curtain had fallen on Act One and risen again for Act Two. The atmosphere of the wartraining classes is deadly earnest, even a bit grim. For one thing, the trainees are under much closer discipline than are the regular students. Personnel executives, shop foremen and plant superintendents are constantly inspecting classes sponsored by their firms, seeing for themselves the progress made by each individual—or the absence of it. At any given moment the man in training is likely to find himself under critical scrutiny by the man he expects and hopes to be working for in a few weeks’ time.
There are few leisure moments. Every two weeks the school makes a written report to the sponsoring firm on each student, with special attention to his or her accomplishments, demonstrated adaptability and mental attitude toward the work in hand. Slackers or misfits are eliminated ruthlessly— something that cannot happen to regular students. Director Gillespie admits, a bit wryly, that Central Tech anticipates a casualty list of between four and five discards in a class of twenty-five trainees.
War trainees’ classes begin at 3.30 in the afternoon, half an hour after the regular school day ends. The first shift works until 11.20, with a thirty minute recess for supper, eaten in the school cafeteria, where a three course meal is served at
cost, averaging twenty-seven cents a person. The cafeteria feeds around five hundred trainees nightly.
The midnight shift comes on at 11.30, works until 7.30 with half an hour recess. These classes are trained entirely by full-time instructors, brought in from war industries, who are familiar with actual plant conditions. About four hundred students are taking the midnight courses, all of them civilians, all males. No women attend classes after 11 o’clock.
Dominion, Provincial and Municipal Governments support the War Emergency Training Plan among them. Ottawa puts up one half the cost of the necessary new equipment, pays living allowances to trainees and salaries to instructors. Provincial Governments pay all administrative costs and the other fifty per cent of the equipment expense. The municipality provides and maintains the building.
Subsistence allowances are paid at rates established by the Dominion-Provincial War Emergency Training Committee at Ottawa. The amounts vary according to the cost-of-living ratio in different communities, and the needs of the individual. Civilian trainees at Central Tech who are married and have families to support receive $13-$15 weekly. Single men and women who are on their own and must provide food and shelter for themselves get from $7 to $10 a week, as do those who, while living at home, are paying board to their families. A minimum allowance of $5 weekly is paid to trainees coming from homes where they are not required to contribute to the family income.
Pay parade at Central Tech is organized army style. Trainees are paid every Tuesday night. Each class is paraded as a unit to the paymaster’s office under the eye of its instructor. Students line up in alphabetical order, receive and sign for the amount due, then return to their classrooms. “It takes us only seven minutes to pay off a class of twenty-five,’’ says Mr. Gillespie.
Central Technical School covers a city block in midtown Toronto, on the edge of the Varsity district. The building, a strictly functional structure dates back to 1914, when it was just about the latest thing in school architecture. Classrooms open off both sides of four corridors on each floor, built to form a square. It takes a mile and a quarter of walking to cover all four floors and the basement. An annex, located in a building formerly used as a garage, on nearby Bathurst Street, accommodates overflow classes in aircraft rigging and aero engine work. This arrangement is unsatisfactory, and school authorities have been trying without success, to persuade the Dominion Government to assist in the financing of a new building on the school grounds.
Four men handle the school’s administrative and executive work. Principal Gillespie is Director of War Emergency Training, dealing with broad matters of policy, supervising the entire program. His Assistant-Director, H. J. Elliott, looks after most of the detail work. Selection of trainees and their placement is the responsibility of H. M. Gore, who makes regular routine visits to every war material producing plant in the district, probably knows more industrial big shots by their first names than any other school executive in Canada. The important job of bargaining for equipment and supplies is in the hands of R. D. Phillips, the purchasing agent. All four are graduate engineers who have had industrial as well as school experience.
There are one-hundred-and-sixty teachers at Central Technical School who instruct the fiftytwo hundred day-and-evening boy-and-girl students. War Emergency training is done by thirtyfive full-time, forty-four-hour-a-week instructors, skilled craftsmen recruited from the ranks of foremen and superintendents of as many different industries. Their work is supplemented by some fifty Board of Education teachers drawn from Central Tech’s own staff and other Toronto Schools, who put in up to twenty hours a week with Central Tech classes, in what used to be their spare time. The rate of pay they receive for their
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night work at Central Tech averages about three quarters of that paid in their regular employment. There are few spots in the Canadian war effort where men are paid less for working overtime than they are for their standard working day.
IIow it Started
THERE IS evidence to support the claim made on behalf of Central Tech that the whole War Emergency Training Plan had its beginnings in this school. It was during the early summer of 1940 that Central Tech authorities and officials of the Vocational Branch of the Ontario Department of Education devised a scheme intended to supply badly needed aircraftmen and ground crews for the Commonwealth Air Training plan, then still in its early stages of development. At first this scheme did not extend beyond the students of the regular aircraft classes. Expansion of the scheme to embrace adult trainees in many types of work, and a round-the-clock schedule of courses, came later. Once started, there was no stopping the thing. In less than a month the idea had spread to most other large technical schools in Ontario.
Central Tech teaches aircraft construction as a part of its regular curriculum. The suggestion was to select a number of promising thirdyear aircraft students, put them through a ten-week course—fortyfour hours a week—in fourth-year shopwork, graduate them, and place them where they could be of the greatest value to their country. The Ontario Departments of Education and Labor fitted the extra classes into the Dominion-Provincial Youth Training Plan, and new summer courses in both aircraftmanship and machine operating opened on June 10, 1940. By the end of August 534 young trained mechanics were ready to contribute their skill to aircraft manufacture and maintenance, and to the machine industries.
In October 1940 the War Emergency Training Program began operations, and from that time forward Central Tech has been an increasingly important adjunct of that ambitious project. The development has
brought about a number of revolutionary changes in the functions of Central Tech, as it has in the functions of other schools participating in the plan. There is a much closer contact with industrial establishments than ever before existed; a keener interest on the part of employers in the training of the men and women they need for their factories. There is, too, a notably increased student enthusiasm. The boys and girls and men and women have a reasonable assurance that the time and effort they are expending will bring them immediate returns in the form of regular employment at good wages.
Vocational instruction under the War Emergency Program falls into four classifications. Civilian industrial training; upgrading—that is, special courses for men and women already employed who have shown themselves to be of the stuff foremen are made of; pre-enlistment training for men who have passed the physical examination for the R.C.A.F., and what the Department of Defense calls Phase Two of Army trades training.
About six hundred of the 1,135 war emergency trainees registered at Central Tech last January were taking industrial training courses. Average length of these is from ten to twelve weeks, but some highly technical subjects take longer. The industrial chemistry and machine drafting courses cover twenty weeks. On the other hand, three weeks instruction is sufficient to teach most women to run a power machine, or to work efficiently on assembly jobs requiring only a single main operation. Women are particularly suited for certain operations. Meter assembly, for example, requires the accurate weaving of twenty-six strands of wire, each wrapped in a different colored covering. No men need apply here. The male sex, it seems, is affected with color blindness to a much greater degree than are women.
The select group taking upgrading courses learn advanced machine work, blueprint reading, mathematics and foundry practice. In these classes the school receives one hundred per cent co-operation from
employers. Candidates are handpicked at the plant, watched over and encouraged by shop superintendents and other executives, urged to intensive effort by the certainty of substantial pay increases once they have demonstrated their ability through their school records.
Approximately two hundred men are regularly enrolled in pre-enlistment courses for R.C.A.F. candidates. They are taught air-frame construction, aero engine mechanics, radio and instrument making and installation. The courses run from eighteen weeks in the air mechanics classes to twenty-four weeks of radio. The practical effect of this training is to reduce substantially the time absorbed in advanced instruction at Commonwealth Air Training schools. Men graduated from Central Tech need to take only eight weeks of advanced training at schools such as St. Thomas, instead of the twenty-six formerly required. This relieves congestion at the R.C.A.F. schools, materially speeds up the process of transplanting aircraft mechanics from civilian life to active duty.
A similar situation exists with regard to training for service with the Army. Basic training of new recruits is done in the camps. Soldiers who display special aptitude, or who are particularly fitted because of previous experience, for one of the many skilled occupations modern mechanized warfare demands of its battalions, take their courses at schools such as Central Tech. For three months they learn the rudiments of the crafts they will follow during their Army career. Then they pass to advanced Army trade schools for finishing. Central Tech has approximately two hundred soldiers learning fifteen different trades in its classrooms this year.
Army and Air Force trainees are sent to Central Tech by their units. The method of enrolling civilian trainees is necessarily different. Most of the men and women are recruited through the classified columns. Advertising calling for men and women to train in a specified craft is inserted in the newspapers. Applicants report to the school, where they are interviewed by instructors, and by shop superintendents and foremen representing the sponsoring industry. The most likely candidates are chosen and put to work in the classes, usually in groups of twenty or twenty-five students.
Many of the larger firms engaged in war production find it convenient to sponsor entire classes in some special branch of activity where there is a shortage of expert personnel. Some of the smaller companies cannot employ skilled workers on a wholesale scale. The procedure in their case is for the school to set up a course, then make contacts with plants where trained men and women may be placed. An outline of the proposed course is submitted to the prospective employer for criticism. Adjustments may be made to suit the requirements of the industry, and the class is organized on that basis. It sometimes happens that half a dozen different firms will each have an interest in a single class, finding places in their factories for
one or two or more men and women after they have completed the course.
Make Their Own
CENTRAL TECH has a tremendous variety of equipment. James Gillespie believes his establishment to possess the only milling machine shop to be found in any Canadian school building. Shops are fitted for bench work, for fine lathe work. There is a foundry, a smithy with open forges, a boarded-up radio code room where R.C.A.F. operators are taught the secret ways of their service, all very hush-hush. Fluorescent lighting fixtures in one shop were constructed by the students themselves at about one fifth of the cost on the open market.
Firms donate machinery, as, for instance, the Ford Company, which gave the school a cut-open truck chassis displayed at last year’s Canadian National Exhibition. A comic touch came with this gift. When received the chassis was equipped with four pristinely new white wall tires. “How about these tires? Do they go with the chassis?” Central Tech telephoned the Ford office. “Gosh!” said the Ford office, “we’ll send a man down right away to take ’em off.”
In the domestic science section where Central Tech is training Army cooks, black and inelegant field kitchens have been set up alongside the shining monel and enamel ranges. Soldier cooks learn their trade under an approximation of actual war conditions, severely shorn of modern conveniences.
Regular students in Central Tech aircraft classes are making a special contribution of their own to the Royal Canadian Air Force, and are mighty proud of the job. Some months ago the Air Force asked the school to make model airplanes for use in recognition training. The boys responded with enthusiasm. They are turning out at the rate of one hundred a month exact wooden replicas of Allied and enemy planes, made to the scale of one-thirtieth or one-seventy-second. Students develop their own templates from silhouettes and working drawings, carve and assemble the models, finish them with paint supplied by the R.C.A.F., copy official camouflage precisely. The present order calls for 1,800 of these tiny planes, miniature reproductions of fortyfive different types of British, American, German and Italian machines.
“What! No Japs?” we asked Mr. Gillespie. “We haven’t got around to the Japs yet,” the principal said; “but don’t worry—we will.”
Principal Gillespie, forced into the teaching profession by adverse circumstances, has acquired a tremendous zest for his job, works day and night at it, seldom takes time off for recreation. Returning to Canada after the last war, James Gillespie found himself unemployed and hard up. Engineering employment in winter months was scarce. He saw an Ontario Government advertisement offering teaching courses to returned soldiers, with a living allowance.
“At least I’ll be able to eat,” James Gillespie thought, and ap-
i plied for a course. He has been at Central Tech, first as teacher, later as principal for nearly twenty years.
Central Tech’s headmaster is highly optimistic about the postwar development of vocational training. “For the first time the men who control large industries are really beginning to appreciate the practical value to them of technical school
education,” he says. “Nothing like the co-operation you see here between education and industry existed, or could have existed, before the war. Now that the condition has come about, I am convinced that it will remain permanently; and that will be one of the greatest things for Canadian youth that ever happened.”