The Unobvious Ones is a monthly look at movers and shakers who fly below the radar in the Canadian auto industry.
LOOKING FOR PROBLEMS SO DRIVERS DON’T HAVE ANY
When you grow up in Trinidad and Tobago, it’s a bit of a shock to go to northern Quebec for winter-vehicle testing. But Prim Ramnarine just packs his heaviest coat because that’s part of being the senior technician at Hyundai Canada.
Most of the time, he’s at company headquarters in Markham, Ont., where he and his team of two work with the quality assurance and administration departments on preproduction cars, company vehicles, lease programs and, occasionally, customer cars with problems beyond the dealer level.
“Prior to a model being released, Korea will send a few [vehicles] and a team of engineers, and we do our cold-weather testing,” Ramnarine said. “Or if there’s a recall, they send us the part, and we do real-world testing. We want to make sure everything runs right in our climate.”
Ramnarine, 58, learned automotive engineering in Trinidad “because I had that passion growing up. Anytime something was broken in the house, I got blamed. So I fixed it even if I hadn’t broken it, and I got hooked on that.”
Trinidad suffered a recession and hiring freeze after Ramnarine completed an apprenticeship, and he came to Canada in 1989.
“At that time, the Ontario government did not recognize certificates from foreign countries,” Ramnarine said. “I started with a Goodyear store as a fifth-year apprentice and went to night school to get qualification. I was there for years, but then Goodyear got out of automotive and I got laid off.”
He went to Great Dane Trailers as a welder but wanted to get back to cars. In 1997, Ramnarine answered an ad for his job at Hyundai.
“I love it because I get to see the future of the company and the stuff that’s coming along the pipelines. We check for things that may go wrong and make it better before the car goes into production.”
JOBS FOR WORK TODAY AND HOPE FOR TOMORROW
Even if an auto plant is mostly shuttered, someone has to look after it. Kevin Adams, an electrician with Robinson Solutions, helps maintain General Motors’ facility in Oshawa, Ont., along with the nearby headquarters and technical centre.
The Oshawa plant ended vehicle assembly at the end of 2019 and has been converted into a stamping plant with a reduced workforce.
Adams, whose employer handles all maintenance tasks, is also the building maintenance Unifor chairperson for Local 222 in Oshawa.
“My regular job involves work orders for any electrical maintenance that’s required. I also deal with union matters and meetings, and we just finished contract negotiations this last March.”
Adams, 36, decided to become an electrician when his father said, “The trades can’t be taken away from you.”
He apprenticed in a private shop and then joined the union, which occasionally sent him on jobs at Oshawa Assembly. When a company success fully bid on the factory’s maintenance contract 11 years ago, Adams applied and was hired. When Robinson Solutions took over the contract, Adams went along with it.
“This really broadened my horizon,” he said. “I always did construction [jobs]. And it’s one thing to see work when it’s all new, and that’s different from troubleshooting and repair. Every day you’re seeing different things.”
When the union chair came open, “I had a union background, and younger members asked me to take it on. It was another learning curve, but Local 222 offers courses and gives you the knowledge and support. We don’t have the future of pensions, so it was important to me for the younger labourers. I want them to have apprenticeships and training. I fought hard for that, and now we’re going through our first batch of apprentices.
“During the [Oshawa plant closure], we lost a third of our employees. And at our peak, we had 65 people. We’re hopeful it’ll get more material or a product. The more they build, it’s a bigger footprint for building maintenance.”
TOP-NOTCH OFFICE SKILLS KEEP AN ASSOCIATION GOING
Car dealers need news and information, but it has to be the right news delivered at the right time. At the Motor Dealers’ Association of Alberta (MDA) in Edmonton, Denise Kubin makes that happen.
As executive assistant to MDA President Denis Ducharme, Kubin takes care of office administration, adds website content and creates and distributes a monthly newsletter. She also prepares and sends news alerts via email to members, keeping them updated on a variety of subjects, from training courses to fraud.
“We represent over 90 per cent of Alberta’s franchised new-vehicle and heavy-truck dealerships,” Kubin said. “I have to maintain our dealer roster list, and I work with the board of directors to organize and prepare meetings. I also work...with our controller to maintain our finances, the deposits and cheques and invoicing and credit cards. A typical day is a little bit of everything.”
Kubin, 57, got a job out of high school as a receptionist and then spent 22 years as a branch administrator at a rental equipment company. Wanting a change, she went to an Edmonton wealth management and brokerage firm as executive assistant to the president.
“After a year, I thought wealth management wasn’t where I wanted to be, so I found the job posting at MDA. I met with Denis, and I’ve been here nine years and really enjoy it.”
She was unfamiliar with automotive, but “I had a lengthy work history in a professional background and have communication skills, and I’m outgoing and a quick learner. That helped me to move up and want to do better.
“When our members and associates call in, they get me. Denis has the automotive and government experience, so I forward the [auto] technical questions to him, and I assist him with the government items. Everything else, I handle. I learned on the job, and that’s the best way.”