Touching the Future
Getting involved in an advisory committee for your local technical school can pay dividends for you. It can also make a difference in tomorrow's automotive service industry.
Many owe a debt of gratitude to the automotive industry for providing them with careers that have been successful, rewarding and fulfilling. It's not only a great way to provide for our families, it's also something most of us enjoy very much. In my experience, I found a job I love, and by doing that I've never worked a day in my life.
But as much as we are dedicated to our chosen profession, and regardless of where in the industry we labor, at some point we encounter an opportunity to give something back. How we respond will determine what kind of future our industry will create for itself.
Specifically, I'm talking about tomorrow's technicians. They need your help, and there is something easy you can do that can make all the difference. I'm talking about joining an advisory committee for your local school's technician training program.
The majority of automotive instructors across the country say that their advisory committees are the key to the success of their programs. But building an effective advisory committee involves finding professionals who can share in the effort to provide the best educational opportunities for automotive technology students. The best advisory committee members are stakeholders in the community (i.e., business owners, potential employers, working technicians, former students). They provide the eyes and ears into the everyday workplace that your students are preparing to enter. They are the best partners, resources and advocates working with school administration.
"A strong advisory committee is my finger on the pulse of our industry. They guide what we teach and provide that all-important link for our job-shadowing opportunities, apprenticeships and instructor update training," said Brian Manley, automotive instructor at Smoky Hills High School in Aurora, Colo. "Without our committee, we are like an old record player, only able to play the old tunes."
Diversity, professionalism and a willingness to be involved are important characteristics for successful advisory committee members, as is enthusiasm for the program. "When I first joined ASE, an industry colleague invited me to sit in on an advisory committee meeting of the local technical school in Leesburg, Va.," said Tony Molla, vice president of communications for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). "When I saw how involved the committee members were and the difference they made in getting the attention and resources of the school administration, I thought joining this group would be a great way to give something back. That was eight years ago, and I'm still participating."
Steven Ford, instructor/coordinator of the Automotive Collision Technology Program at South Seattle Community College, also acknowledged the important role of that school's committee. "Our Automotive Collision Program would not be where it is today - on the leading edge of automotive collision repair training - without our advisory committee. In 1998, our enrollment was down to 11 students and with those numbers the program would have been doomed. Today, we have 38 students enrolled in the college program and have had a waiting list for five years. We also have a secondary high school program with an enrollment of 20 students in the afternoon.
"The advisory committee was also instrumental in getting our program certified by ASE/National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) in 2000. Committee members donated time, equipment, knowledge and direction. Our advisory committee is a great resource for our students, providing internships, employment and being available to talk with the students about careers in the industry, etc."
Having a strong advisory committee is particularly critical if the school is seeking or currently holds ASE certification through NATEF. In fact, NATEF standards require rather than suggest active participation of an advisory committee for programs seeking certification. There's a good reason: Advisory committees provide several important functions crucial to having a quality automotive training program. These include:
• Program Review - This is perhaps the most important function of an advisory committee and includes reviewing program goals, budgeted funds, student follow-up surveys, instructional evaluation and an annual evaluation of the facilities. This input is critical to overall program improvement.
• Equipment, Facilities and Resources Review - Another important function of an advisory committee is to recommend the facility requirements and the equipment needed for an optimal learning environment. The recommendations from the committee carry more weight with school administrators and can establish a plan for procuring needed equipment, as well as locate sources of donated or low-cost instructional supplies and equipment, secure outside funding to ensure that instructors attend professional and industry meetings, and obtain current industry publications and visual aids for the program.
• Curriculum Content Advice - The advisory committee advises the instructor about what to teach rather than how to teach, with a focus on whether graduates will possess the entry-level job skills needed by employers.
• Career Guidance and Student Placement - Committee members often get involved with Career Day activities, conduct mock interviews and identify prospective employers in the local area. This is how the best school-to-work programs are created, functioning almost like apprenticeship programs. Here, committee members fulfill an important role by helping to identify local repair businesses willing to provide student tours, provide instruction on specific topics, or host teacher training clinics or workshops.
• Community Public Relations - Committee members can help a lot in raising the visibility of their local technical program in any number of ways. Some may write an article for the school or local newspaper, be a speaker at a civic group meeting or feature the program in their company's advertising. Others may work to obtain contributions to the program through various community activities and events.
It is important to understand that the primary function of an advisory committee is to make recommendations and give advice rather than to set policy. Committee members who understand their role and the guidelines for participation are more effective and are more likely to participate regularly in the process.
An effective advisory committee is involved as a partner in helping to educate tomorrow's technicians. The members have an interest in the educational opportunities provided for the students as well as the quality of the graduates of the program. Advisory committees may also make the difference with the policymakers in determining whether your local program not only survives, but thrives in times of shrinking budgets and high educational expectations. But perhaps most importantly, it is a chance to give something back to the industry, which has provided us our livelihood, and ensures that the vital consumer services we provide will continue to grow and prosper into the 21st century and beyond. Think about it.
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