Women in transportation: Kathryn Pratt prepares the next generation
“People are always going to drive a car, and they’re always going to break that car, so you’re always going to have a job,” says Kathryn Pratt. A veteran of the transportation industry, Kathryn’s career came out of her time spent in Centennial College's General Motors Automotive Service Education program. After spending eight years working in repair centres, she decided to give back to the school, and now works as an instructor and program coordinator.
An active career
There was more to Kathryn’s decision to enter the transportation field then simply the job opportunities. “I didn’t want to sit in front of a desk all day long,” she says. “I was a kid that would take things apart. I always worked with my hands, and knew it was something I’d be interested in.” She would go on to take automotive programs in high school, and a post-secondary motive power course. She’d then start working in a GM dealership, which would lead to an apprenticeship, which, finally, brought her to Centennial College’s General Motors Automotive Service Education Program (GM-ASEP).
“That program specifically is only offered at Centennial,” Kathryn says. “Centennial’s also one of the largest schools of transportation in Ontario, so that was why I ended up going there.”
“I did a modified apprenticeship program,” she continues, “So I’d come to work for two months, then I’d go back to school for two months, and I’d flip-flop for four semesters. So then I completed my in-school training, and finished up my on-the job training to write my license.”
An important part of the program would be the career connections it would provide her with. “Almost every professor has been to at least two shops in their career, and still maintains those connections,” she says. “So this year, we had about 20-25 employers come in and interview our graduating Motive Power students in three-minute speed interviews, and about a third of those students got placed.”
However, the most valuable part of the program to her was the instructors. “It was actually the professor’s own spin on things,” she says, “what they experienced in the shop, day in and day out, because they’d all have worked in the shop beforehand.” Eventually, this was a role she’d be filling herself.
“My teachers noticed that a lot of students came to me for extra tutoring or extra advice on things, so they thought that I might like something to do with teaching,” she explains, “So I started taking the adult learning teaching courses while I was at Centennial for my apprenticeship.”
It would be another eight years before she took up teaching, though this was with good reason, since she spent her time working with auto dealers, including Ontario Motor Sales in Oshawa. “I had to build my wealth of knowledge that I can now share with my students,” she says, “so I had to work in the shop, and bust my knuckles a few times. I didn’t want to be the teacher that didn’t know the answer.”
“I maintained contact with one of my old professors who now teaches in the Motive Power department,” she says, “and she called me up and said, hey, we’re looking for somebody.” The rest is history.
Women in transportation
There is another important aspect of her role as an instructor: Providing a visible example of a successful woman in the transportation field. It was some of her own instructors at Centennial being women that inspired her, too. “When I first started, there was only about 25 female GM mechanics registered in all of Canada,” she says, “so it was nice to see a female face in front of me that’s gone through it.”
“Once I built my experience, I felt that lots of dealerships wanted me in their shop,” she says. “They wanted that diversity, they wanted a female face that had built a successful career in the trade. It wasn’t just that they wanted a female face, they wanted one that knew how to do her job.”
“Now that I’m in the teaching position, it’s nice because I hope that I can do the same for my female students,” she says. “I hope they are looking at me and our other female faculty and thinking, it’s nice to see some female faces.”
By Anthony Geremia