Cleaning up: Keeners Car Wash provides youth with new possibilities

It seems Alexandra Wolfe was destined to work with cars. Her grandfather, father, and uncle, all owned car dealerships, so when she saw the Keeners Car Wash job posting on Craigslist, she decided to apply.

“I grew up working at car dealerships doing odd jobs and I thought, ‘I’ve cleaned cars before so let’s try this out.’ I’ve always grown up around cars. I don’t how to work on the inside of them, but I can pretty much drive anything,” she says.

Alex has been with Keeners for just over a year, and she’s worked her way up to being the site supervisor.

Most days find her on site, managing quality control, making sure everyone is doing their job, and customer service — basically the day to day running of the site. She spends one day every two weeks catching up on paperwork and updating records.

“Being young is itself a barrier to employment,” says Andrew Bryson, manager of Keeners. “Employers want experienced workers and if a youth is looking for his or her first or second job, it’s a challenge.”

Education can also be a barrier. Youth may not have finished high school or have finished and not moved beyond that. “If youth are looking to pursue post-secondary education, they may not be in an economic situation where they can afford to go to school, so they need to work to earn the money,” notes Andrew.

In Alex’s case, she completed two years of university, but was taking courses that weren’t leading to anything meaningful to her. “At the end of it I was feeling bored,” she says. “I had no idea where I wanted to head.”

For Alex, working at Keener’s has expanded her horizons and opened doors to new career possibilities. She’s strongly considering returning to university to study social work and she’s particularly interested in the work of Directions Youth Services and Street Youth Job Action (SYJA), a social enterprise initiative that provides mentoring and development opportunities for homeless and at-risk youth in Vancouver.

It’s also given her some valuable “soft” skills that will serve her well in any future job she takes, like customer service, leadership, and problem-solving.

“That’s been my personal growth—dealing with customers,” she says. “I am getting a lot better at it. I am a little stubborn sometimes when I know I am right and I don’t like backing down. It’s hard to hit a compromise when I know there shouldn’t be one. But I do it.”

As site supervisor, she’s had to learn how to mentor her team. “I am also more patient now. I used to have the attitude ‘if it’s not getting done I have to do it myself.’ So basically I am learning and helping them do it correctly rather than me doing it because of time constraints.”

“It’s nice to feel good when you’re coming home from work to know that you’re actually accomplishing something as opposed to just doing a job and getting the money,” she notes. “It’s a nice feeling to come home and feel like you’ve accomplished more than just a pay cheque.”