Part 1 of a 3-part series
BURK’S FALLS – It’s never too early to start honing your craft.
“Having support from my teachers made a huge difference,” said Lofthouse machinist Kade Gray. “They saw potential and it helped shape my career… I love what I do.”
Raised in South River, Gray graduated from Almaguin Highlands Secondary School in 2007 before heading to Canadore College to complete a course in machining. But it was his high school tech teacher who first noticed his skills.
“He knew I was a good machinist, so he helped me get a co-op here,” explained Gray. “I didn’t even know what they did here until I took machining.”
Lofthouse, the area’s biggest employer with nearly 150 people on staff, houses more than 20 forging presses used to produce metal components, such as those used in Moen water faucets.
While completing his high school co-op at Lofthouse, Gray was able to try many different roles, which helped steer him into the right career path.
“I did a bit of a round-about,” he said. “I tried out the whole shop. It was great because it gave me a little bit of experience at everything.”
When Gray graduated and headed to college, he was the recipient of Lofthouse’s annual bursary, which is presented to a graduating student who achieved top marks in his or her machine shop class and is continuing in a machine shop career path.
It was Gray’s experience in high school machining that became a springboard into his machining career.
“We basically kept an eye on him through college and hired him on as soon as he was done,” said Lofthouse engineering manager and fellow AHSS alum Derek Dobbs.
Dobbs is a passionate supporter of AHSS’ technology programs and even worked with the architect to help design the workshops at the new school.
“The shops are a place for kids to realize the value of working with their hands,” said Dobbs.
Dobbs said he is not in favour of combining the various technology programs into one course, as has been the case in other schools.
“I don’t think the hybrid program is a comparable path for a technology education,” he said.
Gray said having the opportunity to take separate courses geared to individual skills was imperative in making the right choice for life.
“You need to be able to try it and see if you like it. It’s the only way you’ll ever know. For me, it was between welding and machining,” he said, noting taking both in high school helped him make his decision.
“Looking back on it, I don’t think I would have wanted to continue with welding. It’s a little dirty,” he said with a laugh.
Gray is currently working through a three-year apprenticeship at Lofthouse and said it was his high school experiences that pushed him to the head of his college class.
“High school covered the basics and then college built on that. It was a stepping stone,” he said, noting every student in his class didn’t have the same advantage.
“There were a couple of guys in my college class that had just taken it in college and it took them a while to catch on,” said Gray. “I had the experience, so I felt well-equipped and familiar with everything I was doing.”
Gray said the learning curve held a few of his classmates back.
“Having the foundation gave me a competitive edge,” he said. “I’m not saying go with tech courses and nothing else. You have to be book smart too. They go hand in hand.”
Now married and a father of a two-and-a-half year old daughter, Kaylee, Gray says he’s happy to be doing what he does best and he said he hopes others will try their hand in technology while they have the chance.
“If the tech programs didn’t exist, the workforce would suffer,” he said. “The younger they can start, the more skilled the workforce becomes.”
Gray said his hands-on career choice keeps him mentally stimulated and requires a lot of math and problem solving skills.
“It’s always a guessing game,” he said. “It’s different every day. There’s always something different to work on.”
Gray said he would consider eventually going back for more schooling to be able to work his way up the ladder in the company, possibly acquire his credentials to become a mechanical engineer.
Gray said he’s glad he was able to continue living in the area where he grew up and can raise his own family here.
He said having an employer like Lofthouse in the area, as well as machining programs available to give high school students a head start is a winning combination.
Dobbs agreed, saying the partnerships built between AHSS, Lofthouse, and Canadore are invaluable.
“At the end of the day, I think most people would like to go back to their roots,” he said, noting Lofthouse has many AHSS grads on its payroll.
“The biggest challenge that we have is finding people that fit into our community. If we try to hire someone from Toronto, we have a difficult time getting them to fit into the northern lifestyle,” said Dobbs. “If we let that tap dry up, we’re cutting off our future.”