Automotive Marketplace

More Job Opportunities Than Graduates

Barrie's Automotive Institute Students In High Demand

Mark Brennan August 28 2000
Automotive Marketplace

More Job Opportunities Than Graduates

Barrie's Automotive Institute Students In High Demand

Mark Brennan August 28 2000

More Job Opportunities Than Graduates

Automotive Marketplace


Barrie's Automotive Institute Students In High Demand

Mark Brennan, President Toronto Automobile Dealers Association

Canada’s $ 15-billion a year automotive industry — from car dealerships and corporate manufacturers to the rapidly growing aftermarket sector — is going begging for talented, qualified employees.

One educational institution is almost single-handedly trying to meet the demands of an industry that employs — directly or indirectly — one in seven working Canadians.

While the Canadian Automotive Institute (CAI), located at Georgian College of Applied Arts and Technology in Barrie, Ont., has about 500 students in its three-year program, this only begins to address current and future industry needs.

"We offer a three-year co-operative diploma in Business AdministrationAutomotive Marketing for students from across Canada in English and French. We aim our courses to where the jobs are: automobile dealerships, manufacturers, leasing, financing and aftermarket sectors,” explains Marie-Noëlle Bonicalzi, academic director, CAI, adding that the Institute’s placement rate is virtually 100 per cent.

“Now we’re gearing our program to the ever-changing needs of such key growth areas as marketing, computer technology and consumer relations. The Automotive Institute, like most other educational institutions, has incorporated computer technology into its courses. Today, we’re training our students to be far more than just computer-literate,” Bonicalzi says.


The Institute’s six-semester, three-year co-op diploma program in Business Administration-Automotive Marketing offers a thorough grounding in the automotive industry. Courses embrace everything from overviews of the industry to marketing, ethics, accounting, parts and service, selling, financial analysis and retail management. The program is being fine tuned to address the hot issue of e-commerce and e-business.

Additionally, the program includes three paid semesters of employment in various sectors of the Canadian automotive industry. Firms participating in this co-operative, hands-on training venture usually end up employing its graduates.

“Several leading manufacturing corporations, dealerships, finance companies, banks and aftermarket firms take part in the co-op program. We’ve even had students take co-op opportunities in other countries like the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Mexico and Germany,” Bonicalzi says.

The CAI diploma currently is non-degree, but the academic director explains that there is a link between the Institute and Northwood University which has campuses in Michigan,Texas and Florida. Northwood offers CAI graduates three years credit towards its four-year Bachelor degree program in business with a specialty in automotive marketing.

“We are currently negotiating with Canadian universities to set up a Bachelor of Business Degree,” Bonicalzi says.

CAI students also stage the Georgian College Auto Show each September in Barrie. It’s North America’s largest outdoor auto show, attracting about 22,000 visitors each year.The 2000 show, the theme of which is “Breaking New Ground,” will be held Sept. 22 to 24. It will be the 14th consecutive show for the enterprising students.


Bonicalzi, a francophone from Quebec, used to run car dealerships in her home town of Shawinigan and in nearby Drummondville. She came to the CAI in 1993, not knowing one word of English, after having heard about the school from the Quebec Automotive Dealers Association.

The CAI has offered bilingual courses since the program’s inception.Today, one in four students is attracted to the Institute’s French program.

“While many of these students don’t speak English when they first arrive, they usually start grasping the language after a semester or two, just as I once did. By the time they graduate, they’re functionally bilingual — and that puts them in high industry demand,” Bonicalzi says.

So many opportunities for bilingual employees have prompted many English-speaking students to develop French-language skills.


Students at the Canadian Automotive Institute, located at Georgian College in Barrie, Ont., are gearing up for this year’s auto show, being held at the campus Sept. 22 to 24. The show, which is expected to attract more than 22,000, is the largest outdoor auto show in North America.

More women are being attracted to the Automotive Institute because of increased demand: about 20 per cent of students now are women, compared to just over one per cent when the school was founded in 1985.

“The fact remains, though, we still need more students. That’s why we are raising the CAI’s profile by linking with guidance counsellors across Canada. In Ontario, we are focusing on working relationships with a number of the province’s secondary school organizations,” Bonicalzi emphasizes.


Mark Brennan, president of the Toronto Automobile Dealers Association, believes the industry has received great value from the Canadian Automotive Institute throughout its 15-year history.

“Canadian automobile dealers began the Institute with $5.5 million in seed money. Now, the province of Ontario funds most of the program - but every sector of the industry continues to donate financial and technical support.That

includes about $143,000 in annual scholarships,” Brennan says.

He adds that the program continues to graduate highcalibre people ready to step in and meet the industry’s


“Every year, the graduates are more diverse. Back in 1985,90 per cent of the students were children of automotive dealers. Now, they comprise only 35 per cent of the student body and the majority of students we attract have no family ties to the industry. All of our graduates now have a high sensitivity to the needs and concerns of today’s consumers.

“Graduates are better prepared than ever. It’s no exaggeration to say they have raised the level of excellence in every sector of the industry,” says Brennan.

Bonicalzi is encouraged by the enthusiastic response from TADA and other industry sectors — yet knows that more needs to be done to attract additional students and expand course offerings.

“Now we have a two-stream program. One is dealership-related. The second stream is geared primarily to the automotive aftermarket.”

In addition, the CAI is now offering a corporate training program for people already in the industry who want to upgrade their knowledge and skills, but are unable to leave their places of work.They will be able to achieve credits towards a three-year CAI diploma.

“In coming years, we will continue to revise our curriculum to reflect changes in the industry and hopefully draw in more outstanding students from Canada’s secondary school system.