AKRON (April 11, 2005) — Mike's Automotive is preparing aspiring automotive repair technicians for the real working environment.
But equally important, this repair shop within a classroom motivates kids to stay in school and complete their education, a veteran vocational instructor said.
Mike Herdrich teaches a four-year automotive technology program at St. Helens High School in St. Helens, Ore., a small town north of Portland. He got into the auto repair trade in 1971 and has been teaching at St. Helens High for four years. In my last column, I discussed how strong support from local auto repair professionals saved this automotive program from almost certain extinction during a budget crunch.
Coincidentally, I learned that St. Helens High also was newsworthy for Mike's Automotive, a for-profit auto repair center operated within the school's auto shop. The overwhelming majority of the vehicles that Mike's services are owned by the school district, school staff and students. A handful of Mr. Herdrich's old customers from his pre-teaching days come there specifically because they value his skills and reputation so much.
This in-school enterprise really doesn't compete with local repair shops because the students' schedules limit the amount of time they can spend on any given vehicle. For example, a popular labor guide may estimate that a clutch replacement takes four hours. However, a St. Helens student working at Mike's Automotive may be able to commit just one hour per day to that clutch job. (If you needed the work done yesterday, you're out of luck!)
Mr. Herdrich is rightfully proud of some advanced, fourth-year automotive students who manage to turn out high-quality repair work within—if not faster than—the time estimates found in the labor guides. Of course, he oversees all work and does a considerable amount of pre- and post-repair road testing to verify the quality of the students' diagnoses and repairs.
Students who want a spot at Mike's Automotive must have good grades as well as competent math and English skills. A typical “employee” at Mike's is an exemplary third- or fourth-year automotive repair student.
When Mr. Herdrich created Mike's, his students voted to place all of its proceeds in a bank account specifically to buy new tools and equipment for St. Helens' automotive program. The most recent fruit of their labors is a new, 9,000-pound twin-post lift purchased and installed with proceeds from Mike's Automotive. Call it a new-era kind of fundraiser if you will, but this fundraiser keeps prospective new hires for a dealership or service shop focused on learning valuable skills instead of knocking on doors and/or selling raffle tickets.
The beauty of the Mike's Automotive experience is that it teaches these kids critical fundamentals that readers of this column constantly tell me they need in their businesses. First, they have to learn how to present themselves to customers and to communicate with strangers clearly and effectively.
They cut their teeth on the art of gathering vital information such as vehicle history and symptoms. They learn to work with a modern, computerized shop information system such as Alldata L.L.C.'s and how to generate accurate, thorough repair orders.
They also learn how to order the correct parts for each job.
Aren't these the cumulative kinds of practical skills you want your new hires to have?
Understandably, local repair facilities tell Mr. Herdrich they're thrilled with the realism and simple results rendered by Mike's Automotive.
What's more, students relish the chance to apply what they've learned in a real-world setting. Any educator will assure you that there's nothing like the feeling a student gets when he or she begins applying classroom lessons in math, English and auto repair to the workplace environment.
They call it “keepin' it real.”
It's been particularly rewarding for Mr. Herdrich when students tell him that Mike's Automotive is the single thing that keeps them coming to school every day.
To me, this kind of initiative and self-reliance should make all TB readers proud—not to mention set an example for all high school or vocational school automotive programs. Is there room for a Mike's Automotive at a school near you?