7/25/2012 2:06:45 PM
Thirty-five-year-old Arlene Michelin isn’t afraid to get her hands a little dirty. She recently completed College of the North Atlantic’s Automotive Service Technician program and secured employment three months before graduating from the program. She now works as a mechanic in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
Despite her last name, Arlene Michelin says before she enrolled in the Automotive Service Technician program at College of the North Atlantic (CNA), she couldn’t even change a tire. A self-proclaimed girly-girl, Arlene says her family and friends had a hard time believing she was undertaking a career change to become an automotive service technician.
While the 35-year-old Happy Valley-Goose Bay native says she would never have thought she would end up in this field, it’s a decision she is glad to have made.
“People look at me now and will be like ‘you’re doing what?’. When I’m not working obviously it’s the four or five inch heels, the hair and the make-up always done, dress pants, nice shirt. So when I’m saying what I do, they’re like ‘huh?’,” Arlene explains.
Arlene worked in an office environment for a number of years after graduating from CNA’s Office Administration program. When she was laid off from her job working with the Government of Canada after six years, the single mom decided it was time for a major change.
“I got laid off in January of 2011 and wasn’t able to find any work that was going to be financially stable enough to support two children on my own, so I started looking at different options,” she says.
“Change is always good, but you’ve got to be willing to accept that. Office work wasn’t seeming to pan out so I started hanging around the garage and just picking around. I took on a volunteer job last summer from May to August with a garage in Corner Brook.”
The volunteering experience made her realize it was the industry she wanted to be involved in even though her friends and family had a hard time imaging her working on a greasy engine.
“When I told mom what I was going to do, she was like, ‘You’re doing what?’ I said, ‘I’m applying for Automotive Service Technician’, ‘You? You!’ I’m like, ‘Yeah’, then she says ‘but Arlene you can’t wear your heels’, I said ‘I know but I can get pink work boots.’”
She bought those pink work boots as soon as she received her acceptance letter and freely admits to owning a number of pink tools.
Arlene started the nine-month program in September of 2011. She feels CNA has a “better atmosphere, better tuition cost, just a better name over all.” She began the program at Bay St. George campus, then transferred to the Happy Valley-Goose Bay campus to be closer to her family.
“I’m the single parent to two teenagers and commuting from Corner Brook to Stephenville was just too much so I transferred to Happy Valley-Goose Bay where I could have more help with the girls.”
While it was a big adjustment to go back to school in her 30s, she says she loved the program.
“Being a single parent you kind of got to do what you’ve got to do, put everything on the back burner and just go to it,” she continues. “Both instructors were awesome. The program is wonderful. Both of them were fabulous and there if you needed extra help. They didn’t mind staying after school if you needed anything, they were just awesome.”
Even her daughters, ages 13 and 16, pitched in to help with homework.
“They would sit down with me if I was going through any review questions for a test and they would ask me, and vice versa,” she fondly recalls. “We’d have homework in the evenings and if anybody needed any help we were pretty well all there and we could help each other out. It was pretty neat.”
Her dedication netted her the class award for outstanding effort and attendance and she had multiple job offers in March, three months before she graduated from the program. Arlene decided to take a job in Labrador City as it was closer to her family support network.
“It was closer to home, and pays a little better. I would say home being the big one, definitely. I didn’t even do the interview; they called and offered it to me when they got my resume. In Labrador City they’re looking for technicians all the time, but they told me the biggest thing that caught their eye was that I had volunteered in a garage last year from May to August, so there is little bit of experience there.”
Arlene says she would recommend College of the North Atlantic to anyone thinking of going back to school.
“It’s not even just the automotive side of things. I would recommend any trade – it’s just the place to be right now.”
She even has advice for anyone interested in the AST program.
“Speaking from the female side, you’re definitely more welcomed into what you would consider a man’s trade. For me personally, I’ve been through a lot the past few years so for me it’s all about independence, so anybody looking to get independence for anything, (it’s a) perfect way to start. I guess the biggest thing for a female is to have the courage. If you want to do it – go do it, don’t let anything hold you back.”
Arlene certainly hasn’t let anything hold her back and is now looking forward to what will undoubtedly be a satisfying career in the automotive industry.
"As a newcomer to the non-traditional world of trades, I finally have the career path which will satisfy me as a worker, as a family provider and as a strong woman in my community."
Public Relations Assistant
College of the North Atlantic