WASHINGTON (Aug. 15, 2005) — Of the states that are promoting automotive technology as a profession for young people, at least two appear to be doing an effective job.
James A. Dunst, national manager for the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills contest, cited Connecticut and Virginia as states with educational programs that, though very different, place a priority on promoting auto technical training on both the secondary and post-secondary level.
Two officials from those states—Laurence Eiden, transportation consultant for the Connecticut State Department of Education Technical High School System, and Lee Ross, specialist in Trade and Industrial Education at the Virginia Department of Education—serve as timekeepers every June at the national Student Auto Skills competition, Mr. Dunst noted.
Both have done an enormous amount to promote auto vocational training in general and the Student Auto Skills Contest in particular, Mr. Dunst said. Mr. Ross received a special award at the contest banquet June 27, he added.
Connecticut is unique in that it has a Technical High School System designed to provide students both with the trade and technology skills they need to get jobs and the academic skills they need to pursue post-secondary degrees.
There are 18 Technical High Schools scattered around the state, and all of them offer training programs in automotive mechanics, according to Mr. Eiden. Nine of them also offer courses in automotive collision repair and refinishing, he said.
“Last year, some 220 students were seniors in those areas of study, and to us that's a significant number,” said Mr. Eiden, adding that he has seen no rolloff of enrollment numbers for automotive fields during his tenure.
Some public high schools in Connecticut also offer some auto technical training, he said, but his own dealings are exclusively with the Technical High School System.
“It's an ongoing task, always trying to make people aware of the importance of auto technicians and the necessity of training new ones,” Mr. Eiden said. “More than anything, we need to get rid of the old concept of the “grease monkey.”
Mr. Eiden describes himself as “a dyed-in-the-wool auto guy” who largely taught himself auto mechanics in the 1960s. But he has made sure he has kept up with the myriad changes in auto technology since then.
“The guys who didn't evolve got left behind,” he said. “For the newcomers, it's a different world than from when I started.”
The key to teaching marketable skills, he said, is up-to-date equipment. “While we have a wish list of equipment we'd like to get, we have no antiquated equipment in our facilities. We've been well supported by our state, and by our superintendent, who understands the necessity of equipping the schools.”
The Connecticut Technical High School System Web site, www. cttech.org, outlines the curriculum in automotive mechanics.
Grade 9 students go through an obligatory “Exploratory Program” in which they spend three days in each trade in the school, select three trades in which to spend six more days each, then make a final decision as to their majors. Those who enter automotive technology will be exposed in Grade 9 to the “Introduction to Automotive Technology.” This constitutes such important issues as equipment identification and usage, safety and sanitation and a variety of automotive practices through demonstration and instruction.
Grade 10, “Principles and Applications of Automotive Systems,” includes diagnosis and repair exercises in engine mechanical and vehicle electrical systems. Grade 11, “Diagnosis and Service of Automotive Systems,” expands diagnostic and repair training in such fields as brakes, suspension, fuel lines, ignition and emissions systems.
Grade 12, “Advanced Diagnostics and Repair of Automotive Systems, Emissions Control Systems and En-gine Management Systems,” requires students to demonstrate entry-level job readiness and trade skills, with the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute exam administered in the second half of the year.
At the same time, students get the grounding they need in such crucial subjects as technical English, math and social studies, according to Mr. Eiden. “When you begin your career as an auto technician, you want to be able to explain what's wrong with the vehicle and to be articulate and polite when you do it,” he said.
About 60 percent of auto technology graduates get jobs in auto repair upon graduation, Mr. Eiden said. The other 40 percent might go on to college—often a two-year course in automotive technology—or to the military.
“We haven't lost that 40 percent,” Mr. Eiden said. “It's just that they haven't gotten into the trade yet. Any time you have a kid 13 years old who makes a vocational decision, that decision's probably going to change. But a lot of them will come back to the trade later.”
If high school students in Virginia are losing interest in auto technology training, it isn't apparent from statistics gathered by the state Department of Education, according to Lee Ross.
Some 120 Virginia public schools currently offer some form of auto shop, a number level from a decade ago, Mr. Ross said. Thirty-nine of those have up-to-date certification from the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) he added. Others have had NATEF certification in the past but for various reasons have yet to renew.
Enrollment in auto tech courses in Virginia public schools has remained more or less steady, according to trade and industrial enrollment figures from the department. Auto tech enrollment for the 2003-04 school year—the latest figures available—was 5,071. While that was down from the 5,290 recorded in 1995-96, it was up considerably from the 3,969 in 2000-01, the lowest enrollment for auto technology between 1995 and 2004.
Also, auto tech courses remained by far the most popular among trade and industrial courses offered in Virginia schools. The 5,071 enrolled in auto tech in 2003-04 compared with 3,760 in cosmetology, 2,996 in construction-building trades and 2,345 in computer systems technology, the next three most popular trade courses.
Mr. Ross, a 35-year veteran of trade and industrial education who has been trade and industrial specialist with the department since 1987, said his goal is to make sure that graduating Virginia auto tech students are ready to enter the work force.
“Professionalism is what we are encouraging, and that is the image we strive to project,” he told Tire Business.
“We don't have auto mechanics in our schools; we have automotive technicians. And now, of course, virtually all the training is computer-related.”
Needless to say, professionalism also is stressed among auto tech instructors. The Department of Education sponsors regular technical updates for Virginia auto tech instructors. One was held in August in Richmond, while another—designed only for instructors who are certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)—is scheduled for later this year in Detroit.
One method of encouraging professionalism, Mr. Ross said, is in encouraging auto tech students to enter state and national competitions. This year 46 Virginia schools entered teams in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills contest, “though only the top 10 actually got to see a car,” he said. “The written test in the competition is based on the ASE/NATEF certification exam and prepared by them.”
The department also encourages participation in SkillsUSA, a national organization with nearly 13,000 chapters in 54 states and territories, which promotes education and training in a wide range of technical, skilled and service occupations. SkillsUSA offers state and national competitions for students in dozens of technical fields including automotive service technology, diesel equipment technology and collision repair technology. Last April, Josh Smith, a student from Taswell Career and Technical Center in Tazewell, Va., won the gold medal in collision repair technology at the SkillsUSA national competition in Kansas City, Mr. Ross said.
Since September 2000, the Department of Education has partnered with the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association (VADA) and Automotive Youth Educational Systems (AYES) to encourage the training of skilled automotive technicians. AYES—itself a partnership between the National Automobile Dealers Association, 14 auto makers and various participating dealers—is an organization dedicated to encouraging young people to choose auto service and repair as a career.
Under the AYES partnership program in Virginia, certified schools agree to educate their auto technology students in at least four of the eight areas certified by ASE/ NATEF, ensuring that all students who graduate from their programs can seek immediate employment from dealerships, according to the VADA Web site.
Each participating school has a “Dealer Advisory Board,” allowing local auto dealerships direct input into school curriculums. Students in partnership schools also are eligible for summer internships between their junior and senior years, working at auto dealerships side by side with technicians who serve as mentors.
Johnny Cates is Virginia manager for the AYES program, working out of VADA offices in Richmond, Mr. Ross said. The Department of Education pays part of Mr. Cates' salary, he added.