Automotive schools should earn *ASE certification for the same reasons technicians should: Self-improvement and image-building. In my last column, I argued that high-school automotive programs will attract more students-potential new hires for your store-by shining up the department's physical image. Not only will this attract more students, it'll help draw higher-caliber kids.
Likewise, attaining ASE certi-fication should be part of an overall image-building effort to convince both prospective students and their parents that automotive repair has literally and figuratively moved up from greasy coveralls to technicians' lab coats.
Earning certification gives a school's automotive program additional credentials from an accepted, respected national sanctioning body, ASE-which is derived from ``NIASE'' (National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence).
Like technician certification, school certification is entirely voluntary. And because it's voluntary, the fact that a school commits the time and money to becoming certified speaks volumes about its commitment to excellence and to its students.
It telegraphs to the industry and community at large, ``We have the backbone and wherewithal to police ourselves.'' In that regard, ASE certification has proven to be a useful marketing tool for automotive programs.
Running the certification gauntlet creates both a useful self-discipline and political leverage for an automotive department or program because it puts instructors on notice, demands excellence from them, and expects them to stay current. Like technician certification, school certification is valid for five years.
That means that teachers have to keep up with the industry in order to earn recertification later on.
Of course, prompting them to keep current benefits students as well as you, their prospective employer. As I have emphasized before, one of the biggest gripes I hear about automotive schools is that their equipment and/or subject materials are outdated.
Meanwhile, automotive program directors or department heads report to administrators who usually are career educators with little or no automotive background or knowledge outside their own personal experiences with service shops. But this administrator holds the proverbial purse strings.
The boss may not know the difference between a hubless rotor adapter and a hockey puck, but because he's a career educator, he understands the value of upgrading a department's credentials.
Therefore, he or she is more likely to approve expenditures for credential- and reputation-enhancing concepts such as certification.
However, automotive schools seldom, if ever, skate through the certification process. It may take several years and thousands of dollars to bring an automotive program up to snuff for ASE's requirements.
Many people in this industry don't know schools can earn ASE certification, so here's a brief rundown on how it's done.
First, the school has to contact ASE headquarters [ (703) 713-3800] for a self-evaluation kit. This explains what ASE's requirements are for different curricula (auto repair, auto body, truck repair etc.). It outlines the kinds of skills and tasks the students should be taught as well as the tools and equipment needed.
All in all, the process resembles what schools do to earn regional or national accreditation.
After completing the self-evaluation and returning the material to ASE, the association's National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) staff reviews it to see if the school is ready for an on-site evaluation.
If so, NATEF dispatches a professional automotive educator and three automotive tradesmen to do a two-day on-site inspection of the program. Among the three tradesmen, at least one new-car dealership person and one independent service shop person are required.
The evaluation team examines everything from equipment, staff credentials and class curricula to the school's job placement program. Should a school fail to make the grade, its staff learns where its shortcomings are.
Schools, like technicians, can earn certification in some or all categories of expertise. But according to an ASE spokesman, a ``certified'' automotive program means the school qualified in a minimum of four areas of expertise: Brakes, engine performance, electrical and electronics. Today, 1,095 secondary and post-secondary programs are ASE-certified.
And like a technician, a school program can earn additional certifications in other areas until it reaches master certification status, which covers ASE's eight automotive categories.
Earning ASE certification amounts to a litmus test for an automotive school's credentials and commitment to the industry it serves.
Look for it when you're recruiting new techs.
If the local automotive program isn't certified, urge the department to send for an evaluation kit.