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Gearing up Youth

Coordinator Levi Allen with students (L) Giovanni Ordonez and Leandru Ebanks

A proactive approach on the part of one local business, merged with effort from a few determined youths, has inspired a promising auto-mechanics training initiative.

Superior Auto owners, Mark and Denise DeMercado, committed to the venture some years ago: "Somebody needed to reach out and help our young people, especially those unable to attend schools overseas."

The end results were reviewed by National Youth Commission (NYC) members when they visited the training site earlier this month.

It was last September that the couple opened the Superior Auto Training Programme at their full-service garage. Their formula for a small automotive trade school was simple: provide free training - accredited by the Jamaican German Automotive School (JAGAS) - to interested youth.

Volunteers, staff members and the DeMercados, conduct classes 8:00a.m. to 3:00p.m. each weekday, and there is a balance between classroom and hands-on learning.

Six young men enrolled last year, but the number dwindled to three dedicated students, Christopher Jackson, Leandru Ebanks and Giovanni Ordonez. They were joined this month by Jessica Dixon and she will continue in September.

"You have to learn in order to earn," master mechanic Mark advised the recruits. "And you can do that by working hard and proving yourselves."

Explaining why he and his wife had started the project, Mr. DeMercado said he had benefitted from a similar initiative in Jamaica. He too received his certification from JAGAS, a school that has produced hundreds of professional mechanics.

And as in Jamaica, the Cayman syllabus includes mandatory core subjects - maths, English, technical drawing, science and physics. All must be passed before students can be certified.

The training facility was reviewed by National Youth Commission (NYC) members during a visit last week. As an independent commission, the NYC monitors and advises on the status of young people, and advocates for developing positive solutions to their needs.

"I look forward to the day when I can have my car serviced by one of these ambitious young mechanics," said NYC Chairperson Jenny Manderson.

She was accompanied by Senior Policy Advisor Joel Francis of the Ministry of Health, Environment, Youth, Sports & Culture; Head of Youth Services Unit Katherine Whittaker; National Drug Council Executive Director Joan West-Dacres and others.

(Standing L-R) National Youth Commission Chairperson Jenny Manderson, Denise and Mark and DeMercado of Superior Auto, Leandru Ebanks, Giovanni Ordonez and teacher Levi Allen. Seated (L-R) are Christopher Jackson and Jessica Dixon.

Congratulating all involved, Ms. Manderson added, "I commend the DeMercado's initiative, and laud the sponsors and volunteers who make this training possible. The participants and their parents should certainly feel proud to be involved.

"I urge more enterprises to step forward to craft public and private sector partnerships in areas that can provide training opportunities and recognized tech-voc qualifications."

During their tour, the visitors learned that Superior Auto aims to develop a pool of qualified local mechanics, but that with this in mind, the initial group of students still has a way to go before they can be assessed as being technically competent.

They must first pass 30 JAGAS classes with minimum scores of 70 percent, in order to become level-one mechanic helpers. After that, they must serve as apprentices for three full years while gaining level three certification, with which they can work in a leadership capacity.

But the Cayman programme does have an accelerated component, for it covers levels one and two simultaneously, as explained by volunteer, coordinator Levi Allen -- Superior Auto's quality assurance staffer.

"Those with sufficient aptitude can come out with a level-two qualification by next year," he said. "And others will have at least acquired basic competency."

And while the ultimate goal is long-term success, some more immediate rewards may also occur. For example, the DeMercados will keep one of the first trainees on-staff after the level-one training is completed this summer - and on a small stipend.

In the coming school year the Superior Auto programme will accommodate ten local students, but twice that number have applied to attend.

During their initial year, the DeMercados did receive some help for the youths to sit JAGAS examinations in Jamaica. Rotary Sunrise sponsored the June trip to Jamaica. In addition, PricewaterhouseCoopers has already contributed towards the summer exams, but more help is needed for this not-for-profit training programme.

"And for those who might doubt the students' dedication", Mr. DeMercado noted, "They're always here on time. The parents are equally committed, and turn up for "PTA" meetings even on Saturday mornings.


For further information contact: Lennon Christian