Motivated to Mentor

Maybe it’s time you went back to school. Not for classes but to recruit quality apprentices. Here’s why it’s good for business.

Wei-Yun Gibson, former AYES apprentice, now works for Subaru of America.In a recent conversation with one of my industry partners, an independent shop owner located two miles from our high school’s automotive program, I invited him to come to our next Business and Education (B&E) Committee meeting so that he could provide us with his experience, wisdom and guidance. As I left his shop, I touched base with two of my former automotive students who serve as his current apprentices. One of them just graduated in May. The other one graduated in 2016.

That’s the formula for successful apprenticeships. Period. In whatever form the framework takes for the application, monitoring, tool discounts, etc., the brick-and-mortar foundation for a successful apprenticeship program has its genesis in the relationship between good repair facilities and good schools. It does, however, require extra time and energy from our industry partners and the schools in their communities.

Back in 1999, our automotive program at the Cherry Creek School District in Aurora, Colo., was one of two that partnered with what now is called Automotive Youth Educational Systems (AYES), a program that, according to its literature, “offers high school students a career pathway into the rapidly growing, in-demand automotive service industry.” AYES serves as a conduit between the students I have in my automotive program and employers looking for apprentices.

AYES is now a part of a larger umbrella program that is aligned with the Automotive Service Excellence’s (ASE) Industry and Education Alliance (IEA) This alliance is the new school-to-career organization that promotes itself as having “engineered an innovative model that nurtures, inspires and prepares students for careers in automotive service in bold, new ways.”

Check out this high-level snapshot of key components from the IEA website that make the program so successful:

Advisory Committee – Locally, it’s a business-education roundtable that’s strategically assembled and comprised of:

  • Business owners, managers and technicians
  • Vehicle, equipment and industry representatives
  • School instructor, principal, superintendent and counselors
  • College representatives
  • Parents
  • Program graduates

Job Shadowing – Students learn from employees at three to four companies to:

  • Introduce them to various career opportunities and give them exposure to potential future employers
  • Assess their interest in an automotive career at an early age
  • Gain first-hand insights into daily work routines and responsibilities, as well as to contextualize classroom learning
  • Help develop workplace “soft skills” such as communication, accountability and respect

Two of my student/apprentices (Elijah Alvarado, Blake Pratt) at my local repair shop.

Student Interviews – AYES provides a structured approach to matching students with community employers, enabling:

  • Real-world experience and exposure to local opportunities
  • Unique, collaborative decision-making processes to best support each student
  • Qualified students to secure a mentor-led internship with a local employer

Mentor/Intern Training – Prior to the start of an internship, the student and selected employer technicians team up to outline:

  • Expectations and responsibilities
  • Helpful tips for workplace success

Internship – All AYES qualified students selected for internships are:

  • Expected to complete 320 hours of work experience and complete assignments
  • Visited by a school liaison to ensure clear employer/school communication and performance reports

Awareness Activities – Industry advocacy is an integral part of AYES. To showcase the value of automotive service and its impact on the community:

  • Various events and activities take place throughout the school year and involve all disciplines, as well as students, parents, educators, civic and community groups and more.

Now that you know these key AYES components, how could you, as an employer, get involved in the AYES Apprenticeship Initiative? As mentioned above, you should seek membership in your local automotive school’s B&E Committee. You can do it by volunteering to speak to Committee classes and determine if you can take part in any open houses, SkillsUSA contests or car shows.

Two of my former students Kyle Thomas, left, and Josh Brown) at a VW/Audi dealership.

As an automotive teacher, I love having local shop owners, managers and technicians come to my classroom for presentations and meetings. In fact, when we recently hosted our Regional SkillsUSA Contest, attendees included students from three high schools and three college programs. We were only able to stage this event with the help of many of our local repair shop people and manufacturer managers.

A terrific example of that sort of get-together involved another one of my former students, Wei-Yun Gibson, who participated in AYES while she was in high school and working part time in her uncle’s import repair shop in Boulder, Colo. She then went on to attend Colorado State University in Pueblo to complete her Bachelor’s degree in Automotive Industry Management (Photo 1). She now works for Subaru of America and is a regular on my B&E Committee.

In fact, at the last meeting she attended, an awareness activity held at school right before Back-to-School Night, she stayed and talked to parents and new students about how she got started and their potential path into the industry. How cool was that? As she told me, “I want to give back to the school where I learned my passion, and I want to make this part of my (Subaru’s) “Love Promise.”

The important takeaway for independent shop owners is that the owner of a local shop sparked Wei-Yun’s passion for the automotive repair industry while she was still in high school. Now, she has become a positive spokesperson for the industry.

Most of my graduates who enter the industry either do so through our AYES apprenticeship program, or they simply get an entry-level job in a shop. Job shadowing is often their first exposure to work life there. For example, Photo 2 shows the two student apprentices (Elijah Alvarado and Blake Pratt) I mentioned above at their independent repair facility, where they spent time observing with an ASE Master Tech to ask questions and see what goes on in a shop. These young men were part of the AYES program, and they are two of several students I’ve placed at this high-quality facility.

Another route many of my young techs-in-training take is to land an apprenticeship with a local dealership. They then attend the dealer’s specific manufacturer’s training program. Photo 3 shows two of my former students at a local dealer, where Josh Brown is now the VW/Audi parts manager, and Kyle Thomas worked from two stalls and is now on the line.

Those two young men did not attend formal VW/Audi associate degree programs, but they now attend all of the manufacturer training available online. And they’ve apprenticed alongside Master Techs who have themselves been through mentor/intern training. If you’re a shop that wants to host a future tech-in-training, identify a Master Tech who will serve as a good mentor and is willing, and able, to attend 1.5 days of mentor/intern training to ensure that the internship will be successful.

Alan Anderson, center, now works as a certified Master Tech at a local independent repair facility. Shop owner Larry Davis is at right.

Alan Anderson (Photo 4) is another heartening example of the AYES apprenticeship model. Alan attended the same Bachelor’s degree program as Wei-Yun, but he’s now found his way back to a local independent shop and is supporting his family as a Master Tech himself. Shop owner Larry Davis also has been a part of my B&E committee, and continues to volunteer to help.

The takeaway in all this is that, as a community, we’ve all helped Alan get into our industry, and now he is a rock-star tech in an ASA shop. And, he’s a terrific AYES mentor to new technicians. If you can develop a strong partnership with a local school, as the brick-and-mortar foundation for your program, you’ll be able to host a few students for job shadowing.

If all goes well, you’ll find yourself a qualified apprentice. It does, however, require extra time and energy from you and the teachers in your community. As an automotive instructor myself, I invite you to reach-out and build those bonds.

If you’re not part of an AYES initiative, contact an ASE Industry Education Alliance field manager,, or an automotive school near you through the organization’s school locator,

How AYES Benefits Students

Provides opportunities for real-life applications of knowledge gained in the classroom (especially math, science and communication skills), thereby making school more interesting and enjoyable

Offers academic and on-the-job challenges in accordance with the highest standards for automotive technical programs in the country

Enhances employability as an entry-level automotive technician through the recognized attainment of specified competencies

Provides on-the-job experience in a service repair environment, which will, in many cases, lead to an offer of permanent employment upon graduation