New England Tech Automotive School Grad from Bermuda Always Loved Cars

Boys often dream of cars but the dream has become a reality for one young mechanic.

By: Jonathan Bell | The Royal Gazette

New England Tech - leading automotive schools in Rhode Island

New England Tech grad Andre Smith -Bermuda

Andre Smith, 21, earned a spot as an apprentice mechanic with Rayclan Ltd and hasn’t looked back.

“Andre’s had to prove himself from the bottom of the barrel,” said company manager Sharon Davis.

The Pembroke auto dealership and repair shop gambles on hiring and helping to train promising young Bermudians, in the hope that they’ll stick with it.

Not everyone has what it takes, she warned. The apprenticeship programme is anything but an easy ride.

Explained Ms Davis: “While our model may seem a long, drawn out one, spreading over almost four years of on-the-job training and classroom work, it separates the young people with not only the interest but the willingness to put in the time and effort for success, from those who may only have a passing interest and who aren’t prepared for the long haul.”

Rayclan co-owner Daniel Greenslade puts it a little differently: “A lot of times we get boys whose mothers call us up asking for a job.

“Right off the bat, that’s a bad sign — they need to have the gumption to come in and say, ‘This is what I’m doing, this is where I’m going’.”

Andre graduated from Mount St Agnes Academy four years ago and knew he wanted to work with cars.

“I always loved cars,” Andre said. “I had all the Hot Wheels cars when I was young. I would draw cars and watch all the car movies.

“I was in school asking myself what I could do that related to cars. Being a mechanic was one option for the field.”

He learned of Rayclan through “word of mouth” and ended up shadowing Gil Santos, described by Ms Davis as “a very demanding, tough-as-nails senior mechanic”.

Andre decided to put off college courses and focus on accruing experience. It turned into 18 months’ work.

“A lot of people come into this trade thinking it’s going to be easy or fun,” said Andre. “I wanted to make sure it was something I really wanted to do and to make sure I was good at it as well.

“This trade isn’t meant for everybody. I like waking up in the morning and liking what I do.

“It can be tough. I’ve got a car right now where the indicators aren’t working.

“I just replaced the fuses, but they came back with the same problem. There’s something making the fuses blow.

“So I have to make diagnostic steps and figure out what. I like that kind of problem-solving.”

The company was impressed enough to help pay for his associates degree at the New England School of Technology in 2010.

“The experience helped a lot,” recalled Andre. “Half the things I already knew or knew the gist of. That’s where I learned how it worked, and got the general courses like physics.

“I’d always wondered how I was going to need things like physics and algebra. When it was applied to the field, I could see it.”

Mentor mechanic Mr Santos has since moved on.

His replacement is Jonathan Davis, another company apprentice who went through the New England Institute of Technology and brought the skills back home.

Andre is now a junior mechanic with the company.

“It’s like being a car doctor,” he said. “When you diagnose problems you’ve got to do it correctly — or they’ll be back.

“Or sometimes a car comes in and we have to tell the customer that the problem hasn’t happened yet and they might have to bring it back. It can be hard but there’s always something new.”

Asked if the glamour had worn off when it came to getting covered in oil, Andre laughed.

“Everybody complains that it’s a dirty job. And it is. But that all depends on how you work. I wash up regularly. You can work clean.”