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  Guest Editorial

In Search of a Pro-Tech

Posted 4/14/2005
By Tim Dwyer

As automotive service professionals, we know things don't always work right. We expect problems. This can be a good thing for business as it satisfies our need to fix cars. But when it comes to employees and where our future technicians are coming from, we need things to work correctly.

A solution to recruiting and training new automotive technicians is working at Oklahoma State University. The problem is the same nationwide: the need for new people to come into our industry.

Needed was a plan to train them, both academically and practically.

The solution was an evolution of ideas that started with approaching students at the junior high level. Personnel from ASA shops and original equipment manufacturers, along with area Career Tech Centers, have long volunteered their time at career fairs to recruit students to the automotive service industry. We realized you can't plant and harvest in the same day. But if you don't at least put something in the ground, you'll have no excuse for a lack of harvest.

An internship program was then established at the high school Career Tech level. High school juniors who apply to this program begin a careful process that matches the best students with the best shops and mentors. A good fit is critical. This is partially accomplished by allowing students to "job shadow" at multiple facilities. Job shadowing allows students to spend time just observing and experiencing different places of business. Shops and students alike observe each other to try and decide if this could become a good working relationship.

Next, matches are made, and the students start working at the shops during their junior/senior summers and then again after their senior year. Some students realize early that this is not for them, but the majority continues to build its nest.

After the first of these students graduated from high school, we asked: "How can we continue to cultivate these enthusiastic young people?" It was obvious there was a need for more training and experience before they could begin working on today's automobiles. (I know how much time and experience I have invested, and I'm still learning!)

Oklahoma State University's educators listened to what the industry needed in a skilled technician. We then proceeded to build an educational program that allowed these high school graduates to continue their internship experience while earning an associate degree in applied science. Pro-Tech was born.

The program is designed to fill the need for independent shops to grow their own technicians. This program is an interactive, industry-driven partnership that focuses on education, academics and practical application.

Our students start with eight weeks of classes, followed by eight weeks of paid internships at their sponsor shops. This pattern repeats for a full two years. We have found that this allows for some real-world experiences to mingle with the instruction and hands-on training they just received. Internships help cement ideas and concepts into impressionable minds.

We have a university that provides the educational shell, we have industry partners that donate and enhance the program, and we have independent shops that support and sponsor students. Everyone is working to make sure the student succeeds. The best part? We are growing technicians who graduate with a job.

Eddie EhlertTim Dwyer is an automotive instructor with OSU's Pro-Tech program. A former shop owner, Dwyer is ASE master and L1 certified. For more information on Pro-Tech, click here to read related story in this issue.

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