Cobra kit car
Click image to enlarge

Story and photos by Paul Williams

Scaled back from earlier plans, an innovative job program will still help Ottawa street kids learn automotive skills while they produce a replica Cobra sports car. Six young people will be hired for the “Fast Track to Employment” project, which starts this month, with a month of training in life and employment skills, work safety and basic automotive skills.

The following 12-weeks will see the group assemble the Cobra look-alike under the supervision of a licensed technician. The finished car will be auctioned off, with any profit going to charity. For the rest of the 48-week program, they’ll be given job placements with local automotive employers.

The non-profit Rideau Street Youth Enterprises (RSYE) had hoped to hire as many as 15 young people for the project, but couldn’t secure enough funding.

The goal, according to project manager Jan Sistek, is to provide hard-to-serve street youth with the opportunity to earn a wage, upgrade their education, work on life and employment skills, and learn basic automotive skills through the building of a fully functioning car.

“Ideally, we’d love to see some of them end up in automotive apprenticeships,” says Mr. Sistek.

Almost three-quarters of the $204,000 budget for “Fast Track to Employment” will be supplied by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and will cover the training allowances, facility rental at Lecavalier Auto/Truck Repair Centre, and some administrative costs. The Community Foundation of Ottawa is contributing $10,000, but RSYE still needs almost $40,000, some of which may be borrowed against the proceeds from the car, to purchase the vehicle components and tools. Private donors are already offering car parts to help with the project.

Cobra kit car

Cobra kit car

Cobra kit car

Cobra kit car

Cobra kit car
Click image to enlarge

RSYE has considerable experience developing programs for disadvantaged youth, having worked with them since 1994. The group has provided training in website design and English as a second language, and employment in carpentry and the recycling industry. This is the first time it’s become involved in the automotive industry, however.

“We chose the Cobra kit car,” explains Mr. Sistek, “because it’s such a well-known and desirable car. We think it’ll appeal to the kids and I’m hoping that when we auction it off, there’ll be lots of interest in the community.”

The program is simple in design, but will be responding to a particularly complex issue. So-called “street kids” or “marginalized youth” are a difficult group to serve, existing on the fringes of the mainstream community. The idea, explains life skills trainer Michelle Theriault, is to identify six disadvantaged, typically homeless, youth who are ready to change their circumstances, and to help them into paid employment and stable accommodation.

Shop owner Gerry Lecavalier is pleased to participate, as he is well-aware of the shortage of automotive technicians in the industry. Bill MacDougall, best known for his Volkswagen-based Chimo kit car in the 1980’s, will be the lead instructor.

“Not everybody in the target group is ready to do this,” says Ms. Therieault. “Some want to find accommodation, but don’t have the means; others have few marketable skills and don’t know how to get them. We’ll be having an information session March 15 to help identify suitable participants.”

Once underway, the participants will be working 40-hours per week, and receiving a wage of $7.15 per hour.

The Cobra kit car consists of a fully welded, rolling space-frame chassis, but will require a power train, brakes, interior, instrumentation and paint. The engine and transmission will be rebuilt units; other mechanical components will be new. Diva Sports cars is donating a removable hardtop.

Upon completion of the car, the six youth will participate in vocational planning workshops and field trips to stimulate interest and expose them to the different employment opportunities available in the automotive sector. They will also participate in workshops to prepare for their driver’s licence and a high school equivalency test (a driver’s licence is required for most jobs in the automotive industry, and a high school diploma is necessary to enroll as an apprentice automotive technician).

If you or your company would like to participate, there are several ways you can help. Cash donations are required toward the purchase of the vehicle and its component parts, and a machine shop to rebuild the donated five-litre Ford V8 engine is also needed (especially one that would permit the trainees to have some involvement in the process). Also required: a transmission for the engine and other mechanical parts; a paint shop to paint the car (likely in Shelby Blue), tires and wheels, exhaust system and upholstery.

Tools and overalls are also on the list, as are driving lessons in preparation for the driver’s licence. All donations, in cash and kind, are tax deductible and donors will receive a charitable receipt for that purpose. If you’d like to contribute, or know someone who may be interested in participating in “Fast Track to Employment”, contact Jan Sistek or Michelle Theriault at (613) 562-3864.

Connect with Autos.ca