Vic Castela

Mar 23, 2023 hireCNC

My CNC Story - Vic Castela


Victor “Vic” Castela, a certified Red Seal Tool & Die maker never expected his career journey to lead back to a school classroom. He describes himself as a “problematic child” and as a youth, faced multiple trips to the principal’s office for fighting off bullies.

“If you told me back in high school that one day, you’re going to be teaching manufacturing, I’d say ‘are you feeling alright’?”

Vic credits his father, a Portuguese immigrant and long-time employee of Budd Canada for steering his son into a machine shop at only 13 years of age to occupy Vic’s spare time after school. There, Vic began sweeping, doing general chores, and eventually cutting material on a bandsaw. It transitioned into a summer job and “snowballed from there”.

“He always told me - get a trade.”

Vic left the shop environment after 25 years for Teacher’s College when his rapport with students was recognized while judging Skills Canada competitions.

He shares his story with his students at St Benedict’s Catholic Secondary School, where Vic wears multiple hats teaching Mechanical Manufacturing Technology, is an OYAP (Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program) Teacher and coordinates a highly respected Engineering Certificate Program.

Vic believes his manufacturing background enables him to be more effective in his current role.

“As a toolmaker…we were always in a position to pivot…problem solving is how you get better at a trade…Every time a student breaks a cutter, I shut down the machine...I bring the whole class together. It’s a learning experience.”

Understanding the pivotal time period high school represents as teens think about their futures and the skilled labour shortage, Vic looks to bring his enthusiasm for this industry to his students.

“I am helping the future of manufacturing in our country. And we are the heartbeat of the economy.”

“If manufacturing dies, we’re in a lot of trouble here in Canada. We have to educate people about what manufacturing entails. I still have a lot of parents who don’t understand.”

“Education by far is going to be the way to reach these families who don’t understand trades. I think if we approach it from a money perspective, we’ll miss the target…that’s a conversation that should come after. I always tell my students ‘ find something you like to do and you will never work a day in your life’. The money is second. It’s the fact that you’re getting up every morning with a smile on your face. Ultimately, that’s priceless.”

Over his past 10 years as an educator, Vic learned the key to student engagement was to capture their interest early on.

“The biggest challenge for me was how to water down a specific topic- bringing it down to a point of what we call the ‘hook moment’, where you can hook them and then take them where they need to go.”

“If they don’t see that eureka moment…they’re not engaged.”

“The longer you do this, the better you get at it…you come up with cool little projects that help enforce that learning.”

Along with an emphasis on safety, the fundamentals of machining including using engine lathes, vertical milling machines, drilling machines, as well as precision measuring equipment are taught.

CNC programming is introduced, and CNC is now part of the secondary school curriculum.

“I am trying to encompass more and more CNC into all aspects of the program- from lathes to mills to plasma cutters.”

Parents remain a stumbling block however and tend to favour a university education over a trade for their children.

One solution?

“Having punchy things like, ‘hey, does your son or daughter love computer programming? Consider this.’ and (show them) a Rolex being machined on a 5-axis CNC Mill.”

“What’s the shame in becoming a licensed tradeswoman or tradesman, making $100,000 a year and even becoming an entrepreneur? If you look at Linamar (Corporation) … that started with a (trade) license.”

“The world of manufacturing has really changed. Most women and men that get into trades are making six-figures one or two years after they’ve completed their license with no OSAP loans.”

“I have a lot of students who could have gone on to university for engineering. Financially they couldn’t afford it.”

These students often choose to work instead- beginning an apprenticeship and making money, eventually achieving certification with no debt.

“They have a paper that no one’s ever going to take away from them. They’re able to work anywhere in the world.

For students unsure if this career is for them, co-op offers a way to test the proverbial water.

“It (co-op) really allows a student to explore a career path without being 100% committed.”

“Doing a co-op in engineering or manufacturing…allows them to smell it, feel it, work with people, ask the questions, mature a little bit.”

Even some students who’ve completed their high school credits want to return to have the co-op experience in their 5th year before making that commitment.

“The parents…it’s trying to convince them that it’s ok to come back and do a semester to hone the skills, so when they (students) go off to an apprenticeship, they’re going to feel more confident.”

Realizing the importance of funding and promotion for technical programs at the secondary school level, Vic was one of several people who five years ago engaged various levels of government with “things that we think need to happen.”

It appears that the message is getting through.

Beginning in September of 2024, Ontario high schools will require each student to achieve one technology credit in order to graduate.

With a shortage of qualified manufacturing technology teachers available, this may prove challenging.

As an option for course credit, St Benedict’s has developed a summer Explorer Engineering Program where students entering grade nine can take classes for four weeks during the month of July and earn a technology credit in engineering.

Recently, the provincial government has also made a sizeable investment to upgrade the aging equipment in high school manufacturing classrooms.

Government funding was previously centred around post-secondary institutions.

“We’re (secondary school) basically the seeds. If we can plant the seed here, it’s going to blossom and transition into your program.”

Vic remains humble and doesn’t prefer the recognition even with the recent accomplishments.

“These are all the little things we suggested and they’re starting to happen. I think that’s fantastic. It wasn’t me by any means- I was just part of the conversation.”

The promotional work that Vic does, including his many interviews, is to educate families and the general public that “there is a world of manufacturing that’s pretty epic.”

“Whether it’s a political or school board release...whether it’s me on TV talking about the funding we received, it gets the conversation going. There’s going to be more interest.”

“I do all this because it’s hopefully helping the message.”

He also credits the support of local companies in the success of his programs, who also clearly see the value in these classes.

“If it weren’t for our community partners, I would never be able to run a program of this caliber.”

Despite the program’s achievements and the role Vic has played in their success, his desire for a legacy is simple.

“All my skills will die when I leave this earth, unless I instill them into my students, in short I will live forever. They’ll pass on something that I’ve taught them to someone else. I want to be that teacher that 20 years down the road, they say ‘hey, you remember that Vic Castela guy? That guy was awesome. His teaching style was different, but man, he really got the message across’. That’s the teacher I want to be.”

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