Virginia has 120 high schools with auto technical training programs, 39 of which are certified by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF).
Chad Maclin, trade and industrial coordinator for Fairfax County Public Schools, hopes to increase the number of NATEF-certified schools over the next few years.
At this time, two Fairfax County high schools-Edison Academy and Marshall Academy-are NATEF-certified, Mr. Maclin said. Next year four more schools will be primed to apply for NATEF certification. Mr. Maclin's eventual goal is to have all 17 auto tech training programs in the school system-three of them auto collision training sites, the rest auto technology, with some 1,800 students enrolled altogether-certified by NATEF.
Because NATEF measures technician training programs against standards developed by the automotive industry, NATEF certification is an important matter for secondary schools that offer auto technical training, according to Mr. Maclin.
``Given two applicants for the same job, auto shops will always hire the student who's passed his NATEF exam,'' he said.
There are three aspects to achieving NATEF certification, Mr. Maclin said:
* Up-to-date equipment;
* Making sure that facilities meet the needs of students; and
* Making sure that all teachers are licensed by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).
``NATEF updated its requirements as of July 1,'' Mr. Maclin told Tire Business. ``We're spending the summer figuring out the differences between the current and previous requirements, as well as rolling out new technical and diagnostic tools.''
Some Fairfax County schools are also taking their auto technical training experiences beyond the classroom, he said. Marshall Academy is working with Ford Motor Co., offering evening programs and internships all year long to post-graduate students.
``The students are working at Ford dealerships, doing both general and Ford-specific repair work,'' he said.
NATEF requires that auto training instructors receive 40 hours of training a year to stay current in technology and maintain their ASE certifications. To ensure that's done, Mr. Maclin said, the Fairfax County School System is negotiating with Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) to provide training for the system's auto instructors, particularly in such advanced technologies as onboard diagnostics and anti-lock brakes.
According to the college's automotive technology Web site, www.nvcc.edu/alexandria/automotive, NVCC offers year-round courses in automotive technology and collision repair, mostly at its main campus in Alexandria, Va. The community college offers associate degrees in automotive technology and emissions specialization, as well as certificates for automotive emissions specialists, automotive electrical technicians, automotive maintenance and light repair and collision repair.
There are about 100 full-time students in auto technology alone, taking both generic courses and manufacturer-specific courses offered in collaboration with Ford, General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., according to Milan S. Hayward, acting dean of science and applied technologies at NVCC.
But the nature of NVCC means that full-time students are by no means in the majority, at least in auto technology classes.
``We have many students who are picking away at classes and may not realize they're going for a degree or a certificate,'' Mr. Hayward said. ``Then one day they might wake up and realize they're one or two classes away from a degree.''
Mr. Hayward, himself an auto technology graduate of NVCC, said the instruction at the school is both state-of-the-art and highly affordable, with a two-year course costing Virginia residents only about $6,000.
``Whether they're brushing up on maintenance and light repair or going for a degree, students will get the knowledge they need to pass their ASE certification exams,'' he said.
Interest in the program is high, Mr. Hayward said, but he feels auto training schools in general could do more to market their programs.
``Enrollment is steady, if not slightly increasing,'' he said. ``But if we did a better job of marketing what we have, we'd see enrollment go way up.''
This year, he said, he offered his instructors incentives to make significant recruitment visits to local schools. Meanwhile, he added, he's discussing a plan with Mr. Maclin to offer college credit to high school students for various auto technology courses.