Leah’s Automotive is much more than a local auto shop. Its driven owner is also tangible proof of how BCIT is as much about inspiring young people as it is about training them.
“I’ve just always loved cars,” says Leah Gillanders, owner of Leah’s Auto in North Vancouver. The shop that carries her name is crammed with BMWs, Audis, and other high-end European cars that she and her team of mechanics specialize in servicing and repairing.
Among the wrenches and oily rags works a young woman who is not only living her own dream, but blazing a trail for others like her.
“There are no mechanics in my family,” says Gillanders. “So it wasn’t like I was wrenching in the backyard with dad growing up. I was self-taught until school.”
When the budding grease-monkey filled the driveway with auto parts as a high-school student, and eventually annnounced she wanted to formally train as a mechanic, her parents backed her all the way.
After enrolling in BCIT’s automative program, Gillanders’ career took off like one of the turbo-charged cars she tunes up. That’s not to say it wasn’t a daunting experience.
“It’s scary,” she recalls. “You are green and don’t know anything. And for women there are still those guys that don’t want to see you there — it’s a guy’s garage, right?”
BCIT gave her not only the skills, but also the confidence to thrive in this very male-dominated industry.
“My biggest strength was knowledge,” says Gillanders. “Just learn, learn, learn as much as you can so when somebody has something to say, you know you have the knowledge to back yourself. That made me strong.”
Gillanders highlights the facilities and teachers as central to her BCIT experience: “The teachers care about the students — it’s not just ‘here’s a text book, go figure it out’. They want you to understand and succeed in the industry.”
Gillanders also loved the way the school incorporated the real-life feel of being a mechanic into the teaching: “When you go into the shop, you have the tool room and there’s a project you’re working on. It’s like a day-to-day operation rather than just sitting there with a textbook. I actually got real-world experience.”
It paid off. After graduating, Gillanders became an apprentice at Jim Pattison Toyota before moving to Brian Jessel BMW, and eventually becoming a certified BMW technician.
She also started teaching women-only automotive repair classes in her spare time, something she continues at her own shop.
“BCIT’s teaching methods inspired me to teach other people.”
Not surprisingly, Gillanders feels strongly about the importance of the trades.
“The world needs trades,” she says. “I think that what BCIT is doing now is going to draw a lot of younger people toward the automotive industry. It’s not just the greasy repair shop in the back now; there is a lot of technical stuff associated with it.
“I think BCIT is really staying ahead of the curve in that aspect.”
Gillanders is personally invested in BCIT’s continuing success. She has two grads working for her and wants more.
“The industry is really lacking technicians,” she says. “When I was hiring, I gave 11 people a trial and the ones I kept on are BCIT grads. They’re punctual, they go a step above, and they have a real passion for what they’re doing.
“I didn’t know what my potential was. It was BCIT that helped me bring it to fruition.”
Founder, Thrive Digital
BCIT Alumnus, New Media Design & Web Development ‘10
As technological, economic and social change accelerates, the BCIT campus must transform into a learning environment where solutions to our most urgent challenges are born, tested and readied for the world.