Involvement Opens Doors to Future Techs

The week looks busy, but manageable. First and foremost, let's make sure our customers and their vehicles are taken care of. Find out how the employees are doing and don't forget to praise them. Do something with the marketing plan, or maybe leave that until next week. The office computer went on the blink; maybe we should think about a new system. Last, but not least, we need to hire another technician, but in this tough labor market, where and how do we find the good ones?

Automotive vo-tech instructors say, “Get involved with our programs.” Their request suggests a proactive approach to finding and cultivating talent during a time when just about all industries are experiencing a labor shortage. It also models what many businesses in other industries have been doing for a long time. They set their sights on upcoming graduates by offering apprenticeship and internship programs. They visit campuses to recruit students and establish relationships with career placement centers, instructors and counselors. Their goal: reach the graduates before they hit the open job market. This same approach should be used to recruit technicians to your business. It may mean, however, putting aside some stereotypes about the caliber of vo-tech programs and their students, and instead realizing that a positive transformation is taking place at many vo-tech schools.

“We are trying to effect a 'culture change' in our district that automotive programs are no longer the dumping ground for the non-achievers. Instead, send us the students who will actually achieve in our class and have the brains to do it,” said Brian Manley, vocational automotive instructor at Smoky Hill High School, Aurora, Colo. Instructors leading this charge appear to have one thing in common. “They love their programs and they love their kids. If you don't, you're not going to last doing this very long,” said Manley.

This commitment is keeping and improving the good programs, while programs lacking instructor, administrative and community support are being discontinued. “Many programs are being discontinued when the current instructor retires. In our district, in the last five years, there have been three high school automotive programs shut down when the instructor retired,” said Lloyd Schott, auto technology instructor at Warren Tech Center, Lakewood, Colo. Schott attributes the closings to the high cost of operating an automotive program, especially in states where school funding is poor.

A Student’s Voice: "I chose to go into the auto repair industry because it is something that I love to do. Since the age of 10, when I received a subscription to Hot Rod magazine, I have been into cars. I started working on the family cars by watching my dad. Soon he was watching me. I have always enjoyed fixing things with my hands.
After high school, I will attend Arapaho Community College. I will go through their excellent auto program. I also plan to enter the Chrysler Apprenticeship Program. For guidance, I turn to my auto instructor, Brian Manley. He has never steered me wrong in which direction to go and is a great help.

I was involved in SkillsUSA-VICA this year. At the district competition, I took first place in Automotive Service Technology, Job Interview, Auto-Related Math and the written test."

Luke Roina, Senior

Smoky Hill High School, Aurora, Colo.

“The programs that are surviving are doing so because of the dedication of the instructor. By this I mean the instructor is willing to spend the extra time required to obtain certification by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), be involved in training, both manufacturer and aftermarket, be involved in the SkillsUSA-Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA) and the Automotive Youth Educational System (AYES) program, and stay abreast of current technology. These involved instructors have the support of the aftermarket suppliers and manufacturers and receive donations to defray the cost of operating a quality program,” explains Schott.

Schott's program is ASE-master certified. All instructors are ASE-master techs, with one being a world class tech, and the center has had a SkillsUSA-VICA club program for the past 20 years. They also participate in the AYES program, a partnership between General Motors, DaimlerChrysler and Toyota corporations that gives students work experience while they pursue their high school diplomas.

Manley describes his program at Smoky Hill as “wounded” when he was hired as a full-time instructor five years ago. He took the position after a 15-year career as an automotive technician. The program was under probation by the state for not having a SkillsUSA-VICA Club and for its low female enrollment. Tools were outdated or missing and the latest textbooks were 15 years old. It was essentially a “hobby shop,” where students did what they wanted to do. Manley gained support from the administrative department to revamp the program and started the process by taking steps to achieve ASE-certification through the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF). Manley also set up a SkillsUSA-VICA Club, and once the school achieved ASE-certification, it became an AYES participant.

The state of Colorado now requires ASE-certification for its vocational automotive programs or funding for the programs will be discontinued. According to Patricia Lundquist, Ph.D. and executive director for NATEF, states are starting to pay more attention to the expensive programs like automotive and as such, are requiring certification for schools to continue to receive funding. This certification process evaluates technician training programs against standards developed by the automotive industry, and therefore, raises the quality of secondary and postsecondary programs.

“The number of programs ever certified is increasing,” said Lundquist. As of May 2000, there were a total of 1,137 ASE-certified automobile programs of which 687 were recertifications and 450 were initial certifications. (Programs must be recertified every five years.) Lunquist points out that the number of recertifications in automobile programs has exceeded the initial certifications, which indicates that programs are realizing the value of certification enough to do it again. On the collision side, there are 130 programs in initial certification and 83 in recertification. NATEF started the collision certification process approximately seven years after the automobile program.

Lundquist also stresses the importance of a proactive approach to the shortage of technicians and the benefits of being involved with secondary and postsecondary schools. “If you want to get something from the schools, you have to be willing to give something,” said Lundquist.

Manley and Schott both say they have minimal involvement in their programs from the independent segment of the industry. They suggest a number of ways for shop owners to be involved. They can be NATEF team evaluation members, volunteer on advisory committees, participate as a judge for the SkillsUSA-VICA competitions, and support informational days sponsored by the school. In addition, they encourage shop owners to visit the schools and give talks, as well as open their businesses for field trips and tours. “Shops can get involved simply by picking up the phone. Or walk in, see if you can help,” said Manley.

Upon graduation, Manley will mentor his students to pursue a number of options including postsecondary training at community colleges, dealer programs such as ASSET, SETP and T-TEN, and independent training programs at the college level. Some will join shops and dealerships as employees and rely on those businesses to mentor them and provide additional education and training. Manley also works closely with the Automotive Service Association (ASA) of Colorado and its apprenticeship program. This two-year-old program identifies students at the high school level and develops their skills with a combination of classroom education at Front Range Community College and hands-on experience at participating shops.

A program with similar goals was launched in southeast Texas in May 1999. According to Bertie Standley, school-to-work coordinator with the Southeast Texas School-to-Work Partnership, this internship program is unique because it has brought together local dealerships and independent shops to address the labor shortage issue and improve the quality of vo-tech programs. Students take classroom education at Lamar State College of Port Arthur and receive hands-on work experience at participating dealerships and shops that form the Automotive Technology Council of Southeast Texas. Students are assigned a master technician to mentor them in the work environment. Council members also help instructors and post-secondary and secondary schools achieve their certifications through ASE and NATEF. In addition, they assist with equipment and curriculum needs. According to Standley, there are approximately 20 dealerships and shops in the program. For the upcoming fall semester, however, there are more students than participating facilities.

In the state of Washington, the independent segment of the industry developed a program called the Independent Technicians Education Coalition (I-TEC), now in its third year of operation. “Nobody could find technicians, nobody was doing anything about it and we all knew we needed something,” said Dan Flanagan, vice president of I-TEC and publisher of the Manifold, an industry publication. Approximately 30 to 35 people dedicated themselves to developing the I-TEC program, which was modeled after the dealer programs (ASSET, ASEP and T-TEN); but instead, students are placed in independent shops for their hands-on work experience. Students alternate between classroom education and hands-on learning in this two-year program that concludes in an associate's degree and I-TEC certification. All participants—schools, students and shops—must meet high standards before being accepted into the program. According to Flanagan, the first class of graduates had 16 students. Although the program does not require a commitment from the students to stay with the sponsoring shop after graduation, all 16 of these students are still working at the 16 sponsoring shops.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time students do end up working for the sponsoring shop. They are well-trained; there is an established relationship and the shop owner has been involved in the training process,” said Flanagan. The fourth class to start in September will have approximately 30 students. Based on its early success and acceptance, the I-TEC program was extended approximately a year ago to include auto body repair.

“The I-TEC program is a great example of how independents can get things done. It shows how they really care about themselves, their future and the industry,” said Lundquist.

To Get Involved, Contact: National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation

(703) 713-0100



(703) 777-8810


Independent Technicians Education Coalition (I-TEC)

(425) 413-0232


National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence

(703) 713-3800


Automotive Service Association

(800) 272-7467


Automotive Youth Educational System (AYES)

(360) 456-2849


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