RightBike’s first class of mechanics graduated from one of the most comprehensive bicycle maintenance programs of its kind on March 12 in a ceremony at the Causeway Work Centre on O’Meara Street.
“Having gotten to know the grads, and a little bit about their backgrounds and challenges – I’m moved to tears at this point,” says Samuel Benoit, one of the lead organizers for the program.
A social business, RightBike aims to help those facing barriers to employment, like this year’s graduates, find jobs in the community.
The certification course subjected the six grads to an exhaustive, 17 week long training course under the supervision of experienced mechanics.
“Our instructors knew these guys were going to be working in a competitive bike shop,” says Benoit. “We gave them the time to learn the ropes – to show up to work consistently, to arrive on time, to respect other, and to work with the equipment and tools properly.”
Over the first 14 weeks of the course students learned the basics of bike building; including threading tires, fixing brakes, and drilling holes in frames. At one point the cohort even got a chance to work with PedalEasy, an Ottawa based supplier and manufacturer of e-bikes. Eight of their bikes were brought in along with the electrical equipment needed to wire them properly.
“We did motorized wheels, batteries attached to them with computer chips. That kind of thing,” says Chris Campeau, one of the six grads. “Biking was a way for me to relieve stress, to push past my problems … I get that with working with bikes too.”
“I think I’ve made some of my best friends here. It’s been cool.” [story continues below photo]
Campeau and the other grads spent the last three weeks of the program interning at bike shops across Ottawa. Campeau, who interned at Joe Mama’s in the Glebe, was offered seasonal employment almost before the internship was over.
“Chris is off the top one of the most energetic and enthusiastic guys we’ve had come in,” says Tom Jeza, the store manager at Joe Mama’s. “He’s driven to be in the industry…doesn’t matter if it’s something basic or advanced.”
The other graduates were offered internships at Kunstadt’s Glebe and Heron locations, Full Cycle, and Bushtukah. At the time of writing, most of the grads have received offers of employment from the stores at which they interned.
“This wasn’t just about learning how to turn a wrench,” says Brian Wheeler, the head mechanic for the program and owner of RightBike.
The only comparable program is an 11-day certification course from the Winterborne Bicycle Institute in Guelph, according to Wheeler. But RightBike’s course doesn’t just teach the technical skills necessary for work as a mechanic.
“We’ve learned from experience that solely bike skills and bike mechanics aren’t the only thing it takes to get and hold a job,” said Benoit. “It’s the social skills, the soft skills, that make the difference.”
This included learning about financial literacy, WHMIS training, managing workplace stress, first aid, fighting violence against women, and preparing for interviews. To keep fuelled during the course they were provided with free coffee by the Bridgehead at Fairmont and Wellington.
The class was comprised of individuals facing barriers to employment. These included mental health challenges, overcoming addition, a lack of economic opportunities, and physical or learning disabilities, according to Benoit. Originally there were 11 students in the class, but by graduation that number had dropped to six.
“For some of these guys, getting competitive job offers is a completely new experience in their adult lives,” says Benoit. “But this is what they’ve done themselves. We created the environment, but it’s from their own efforts, their own capacity, that they’re getting these offers.”
“Chris offers a lot to our team, and it was fun teaching him too,” adds Jeza. “Heck, we’ve even started hanging out at the bike park sometimes.”
Although the program has already helped forge new relationships, Jeza has a little bit of competition.
Even after the crowd of enthusiastic supporters had left, the new mechanics were still gathered around the buffet table talking, smiling, and laughing.