Apprenticeship ProgramsPosted 4/14/2005
By Levy Joffrion
It's doubtful anyone would question the value of apprenticeship programs. They're a proven way of finding the skilled workers shops need for tomorrow. And there are different types of apprenticeship programs. Some shops get apprentices from high school vocational programs, some work with their local college to find someone, and still others "just grow their own." But what works and what doesn't?
In talking to shop owners and others around the nation, AutoInc. found some programs are working quite well.
One of the best programs is being conducted by Oklahoma State University at its Okmulgee, Okla., campus.
OSU-Okmulgee has had five manufacturer-sponsored training programs for years, but in 2002, it started a program for students who want to work for repair businesses other than dealerships. Pro-Tech is a two-year, six-semester program leading to an associate in applied science degree with a major in automotive technology.
"If a student is in a General Motors Corp. program, he works just on GM vehicles, but Pro-Tech students work on a variety of vehicles," says Steve Doede, the school's Automotive Division chair.
Independent repair and service shops benefit from the program in that they get apprentices who - in addition to wanting to work for independent shops - have made the commitment in time and money to go through the Pro-Tech program.
Timothy E. "Tim" Dwyer, a longtime ASA member who formerly had a shop in Tulsa (Superwrench Import Auto), is an instructor in the Pro-Tech program. "Pro-Tech is the fastest-growing program we have," says Dwyer.
Dwyer says much of the program's success is because of its partnership with shops and the program's sponsors - including ASA, NAPA, and AAA. "We couldn't do it without the help of a lot of organizations like ASA," says Dwyer.
It takes the cooperation of the school, students and repair businesses to make the program go. Students are responsible for finding and keeping a shop sponsor. They're also responsible for program costs, including tuition, fees, books, tools and housing.
The university has the responsibility of providing the classroom, lab and faculty to teach the students.
And shop owners agree to provide a good internship experience for a student for the duration of the program. Shop owners must also agree to pay wages to the student and provide work uniforms. In addition, shops provide $300 per year per student to the college for student support efforts such as field trips, student recognition events, graduation dinners, etc. Shops also must complete a student evaluation form for each internship.
Among ASA member-shop owners who have participated in the Pro-Tech program are Rick Bigham, AAM, the owner of Bigham Automotive in Lubbock, Texas; and Bill James, the owner of Bill's Quality Automotive in Tulsa, Okla.
Bigham, chairman of the program's advisory committee, now employs a former student who was in the first class that graduated. He also has a young man working for Bigham Automotive that he hopes will soon be attending the school.
"I can't say enough good about the Pro-Tech program," says Bigham. "It's the best thing that has ever happened in the industry."
Bigham says the school's instructors stress to students what shop owners are doing for them. "So you get an apprentice who turns into an extremely loyal employee," says Bigham.
James says the Pro-Tech program is definitely a "plus" for independent shops. "It's a great way to get technicians," says James.
Now in his employ is a young man who has graduated from OSU's Pro-Tech program and another who is currently enrolled in the school. Both of the young men started working for the shop while they were in their high school's vo-tech program, then continued their apprenticeship there while attending OSU. "The high school and college programs dovetail nicely," says James. "They have become excellent employees."
Among ASA members who envy OSU-Okmulgee's program are Terry Steenholdt of T.D.S. Auto Repair Inc. in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Joe Torchiana of One Stop Tire & Auto Service Inc. in West Chester, Pa.
Steenholdt says his local college has an automotive program that is filled to capacity with students. But, unlike the program at OSU-Okmulgee, students do not have to work in a local automotive repair shop while going to school. Some do, and of course they get some hands-on experience working in the school shop, but "it's not real-world," says Steenholdt. "They need that in addition to the theory they're getting."
Steenholdt says the college sees the value of a program like OSU-Okmulgee's where students divide their time between school and a shop, but the college is running at capacity and doesn't have the funds to do more. "I'm finding it difficult to convince them they should," he says.
Torchiana says his county had an apprenticeship program in which he was involved but that it fizzled. "The big problem is money," says Torchiana.
He says the mentoring aspect of the program needed enhancement, but tools and ongoing education were provided. Unfortunately, the money ran out and the system went away.
"Also," says Torchiana, "some of the students were in high school, some in postsecondary. A shop would sign up a student and put the kid with a mentor. But the young people didn't get to the point of becoming productive."
Torchiana says he believes in apprenticeship programs. "You hear so much about the shortage of technicians," he says. Torchiana would like to see a good apprenticeship model developed like the one in Oklahoma.
"You need the right mentor and the right teachers," says Torchiana. "A mentor needs to be someone who can really teach the kid." Only highly competent technicians are qualified to serve as mentors, he stresses.
Another college program working well is at St. Phillip's College in San Antonio.
Mike Koebke, the owner of Gus Mann Automotive in San Antonio, works closely with local high schools and middle schools on various programs intended to attract bright young students into automotive repair and service careers. He also works closely with St. Phillip's College, which includes a two-year course in automotive repair and service in its curriculum. The course, in which students divide their time between school and work, leads to an associate's degree.
Industry giants like General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and ACDelco all sponsor programs within the associates program. ACDelco's Technical Service Educational Program (TSEP) leads to a postsecondary associate certificate.
Koebke, who serves on the school's advisory committee, has gotten some good students from the college's program. In fact, one of his best technicians came out of the program.
So it works. But there also are issues, says Koebke.
"Overall, St. Phillip's program is working very well," says Koebke, "but we're still working out the kinks." For example, he says, "For a while the school had students in the classroom four weeks, then working four weeks in the shop. We found it's better for the students to go to school each day until noon, then work in the shop each afternoon. This gives them a better opportunity to apply what they've been taught in school to the real world.
"Also, we pair them with a mentor who knows what they're studying in school and who tries to give them an opportunity to put that theory into practice."
Another issue is trying to educate counselors that automotive repair shops need "the cream of the crop" in students because cars today are high-tech. "The day of steering the not-so-bright and problem kids into careers such as automotive repair is gone," says Koebke. "We need the best and the brightest. I always ask a counselor, 'Would you want this kid to work on your car?'"
Another program working well is in place at Augusta (Ga.) Technical College.
Aaron Clements, AAM, of C&C Automotive in Augusta, works closely with Augusta Technical College and is on the school's advisory board.
He has three people in his shop who work there during the day and go to the technical school in the evening. Another young man goes to the school during the day, then reports for work. He's usually there by 3 p.m. and works until the shop closes at 5:30 p.m.
"When they come out of the school, they're not ready to step right in as a technician, but at least they know the basics - things like having a good work ethic, keeping their work area clean and organized, etc.," says Clements. "That gives them a firm foundation. And it's up to the shop to build on that foundation. We do that by putting them with a good technician who will teach them what they need to know."
Clements says it all works very well. "Most of our people have gone to that technical college," he says.
Augusta Technical College has a two-year course in automotive repair and service.
"Obviously, we benefit from the training they get at the school, but there's more to it than that," says Clements. "Just the fact that they're willing to commit the time and money it takes to learn the industry indicates they're serious about it all ... that they're truly committed. As a result, we have a great team."
James Addison of Addison Auto Center in Denver would agree with Clements that it's best to get a youngster who at least knows the basics.
Addison says his shop does not currently have an apprentice on the mechanical side of the business. In the past, says Addison, it has had some high school students as apprentices and the candidates they had didn't stay in the business. The program was disappointing. "They were young and didn't know what they wanted to do," says Addison. "Training them requires an investment on the part of the shop, and we didn't get any return on our money. In spite of all that, I still think an apprenticeship program can be a good way to bring someone into the industry. If you get the right person, it's OK.
"My preference would be to find someone who already has some experience; someone who at least knows the basics. One of the best we've had was a young man who had worked for Goodyear, changing belts and hoses and things like that. But at least he knew the basics and he had his own tools. So we brought him in and that worked out pretty well."
Among shop owners who like the "grow your own" concept is Dave Walter, owner of Kehoe Automotive Center in Carol Stream, Ill.
Walter hasn't been involved in a true apprenticeship program, but he has had good luck working with a local high school automotive program. He has gotten two excellent technicians from the high school program. "Growing my own has worked for me," he says. "They're both now certified technicians and doing an excellent job. I've gotten some duds too, but I can truly recommend working with vocational schools in their school-to-work programs."
Ron Meyer, AAM, president of ASA-Michigan, says there are many outstanding programs in his state.
One such program is the Comprehensive Automotive Training (CATS) Program at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich. CATS is a one-year accelerated program. At the end, the instructors work with Meyer in getting local shop owners to interview students with an eye toward possibly hiring one or more of them.
Other outstanding automobile programs can be found at the Kent Career Technical Center in Grand Rapids, Mich., and at Fitzgerald High School in Warren, Mich. Also, at the Oakland Schools in Royal Oak, Clarkston, Pontiac and Walled Lake, Mich. Unfortunately (for independent shops), most of the students who graduate go to work for dealerships because they have been enrolled in the schools' Automotive Youth Education Systems (AYES) programs.
AYES is a partnership among General Motors Corp, Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler AG, Toyota Motor Sales USA, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and high schools. Enrolling in AYES means the student will apprenticeship at a dealership and afterward is expected to continue to work for that dealer. However, a few students elect to work for independent shops and the instructors work with ASA-Michigan in trying to find a shop that will hire them.
Also, Oakland Schools is working with Meyer to develop a program strictly for students who want to work for independent shops. Oakland Intermediate School District supports 28 school districts in the county through the four technical campuses.
In summary, some apprenticeship programs are going great; some are not faring so well. One thing for sure: It takes time, money and commitment on the part of the student, the school and the participating shop. "But the rewards can be great," says Bill Haas, AAM, ASA's vice president, service repair markets. "It can be a great way to get the technicians you're going to need for tomorrow."
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