Australia’s first bicycle mechanic course specifically for youth with autism will soon launch in Melbourne, in combination with a new specialist mountain bike store.
The Kicker Project will provide mechanic courses for neurodiverse people aged 16 and over, to give them career options and help address a shortage of mechanics in the bike industry, according to founder and managing director Mark Jaski.
The initiative is on track to begin in August, in conjunction with a new social enterprise mountain bike store called Bootr.
Mark and fellow director Andres Knaack are on the lookout for experienced mechanics to staff Bootr and provide training for Kicker Project courses.
Both ventures will be located at the Cheltenham premises of The Original Electric Bicycle Company (TEBCO).
Mark said Bootr’s goal is to ultimately employ graduates from the Kicker Project, while other Kicker trainees will have the skills to potentially gain work with other bike stores.
“At this stage we’re looking at the training programs being around 10 weeks long and running three or four of them a year – with eight to 10 trainees per program,” he explained.
“Our intention is Kicker will be a pilot program and over the next five years, we would be looking to replicate the program at four or five other locations in Victoria and up the east coast.
“We haven’t been promoting the program yet but we’re already receiving a lot of interest from autism support groups.”
Mark said bike mechanic training and work was well suited to certain neurodiverse people because it was very hands-on and, if taught the right way, offered plenty of clarity in what was required to do the job well.
“There are a lot of kids like Nick who fall through the cracks and the consequences for them can be quite devastating.”
In a supportive environment, it is a vocation in which they can excel and gain job satisfaction.
He said the idea for Kicker was borne from his experiences with his own 18-year-old son Nick, who is on the autism spectrum.
“It’s been a long journey with Nick and just before COVID set in, we’d got him into mountain biking,” Mark explained.
“He really enjoyed it and was much more engaged in mountain bike than he had been with other things.”
To expand Nick’s social connections, they launched the Bayside MTB Club and began a few riding groups.
Then Nick expressed an interest in becoming a bike mechanic.
“We set out to find him work but it was very challenging because all the stores said they only took experienced people. They didn’t have time to train anyone and there was really nowhere for him to learn,” Mark said.
“We eventually found a bike shop where he could do some casual work but it wasn’t a good fit for Nick and wasn’t a supportive environment for him.
“We came up with the idea of starting our own bike shop and social enterprise.”
Andres was one of the first people to follow the Bayside MTB Club Facebook page and he and Mark became friends and riding companions.
“I shared my ideas of starting the shop and training venture and he was very interested because he has a much younger son who is on the spectrum. He suggested we join forces and make it happen.”
Mark has been looking for a suitable location for the venture for about 12 months when he noticed TEBCO’s advertisement for someone to sub-lease a section of their premises.
Search for Mechanics
He said Bootr’s initial focus is getting the workshop up and running – to find a lead mechanic and another three of four mechanics and, at the same time, finishing fitting out the workshop space.
“Once we have those mechanics in place, we can start calling for expressions of interest for training participants by the end of this month,” he said.
“We’re looking for mechanics who have a number of years’ experience behind them – ideally more mature mechanics with experience in all things mountain bike.”
He said the lead mechanic and at least some of the other mechanics would divide their time between operating the Bootr workshop and running the Kicker training programs.
“We don’t necessarily need them to come to us with certifications in providing training. They just need to be good with people, have the right mindset and being willing to share their knowledge,” Mark added.
“Ultimately, we could look to make it a full-on training program and establish the venture as a registered training organisation. We have growth plans and we are hoping the people who get on board will grow with the business.”
He said while they plan to register Kicker as a not-for-profit organisation, they’re aim is to develop Bootr as a successful MTB business.
People on self-managed NDIS programs will be able to use that assistance to access Kicker training, and Mark and Andres are currently pursuing grant and sponsorship opportunities.
“We don’t want to be reliant on donations and grants and be out looking for money all the time,” he stated.
“Our goal is to build Bootr as a full-on MTB-centric workshop and store, to enable us to fund the Kicker Project and provide other initiatives around that neurodiversity mission.”
To complement the workshop, Bootr is initially looking to sell essential spares and accessories.
“We’ll then start introducing clothing and bringing in other items. Eventually, we’ll be selling bikes and we’re looking at developing our own range of technical MTB gear, such as technical jackets and pants.
“Each step will create opportunities for people to work, whether they’re neurodiverse or not. Consistent with our social enterprise model, we would like to think we will have a good number of neurodiverse individuals working in different parts of the business, not just as mechanics.
“We want to offer a diverse range of employment options.
“Our journey with Nick has made us really motivated to do something. We’re very conscious there are a lot of kids like Nick who fall through the cracks and the consequences for them can be quite devastating.
“Our program will not be suited to all neuro diverse individuals but it’s about getting good outcomes for those who are interested in bikes and have an inclination towards hands-on activities.”
Mark and Andres are currently looking additional sponsors to help establish Kicker, along with a primary trade partner for their supply of workshop tools, other equipment and stock.
Interested people can contact Mark on 0417 037061 or email@example.com