College not the best fit? Opportunities abound in automotive technology fields

AutoTech.1

Jobs in automotive service technology pay well and have long-term potential. Certified automotive service techs spend less time and money in school than at a four-year college degree and automobile dealers in Colorado are eager to hire them. In fact, dealers say jobs are going unfilled.

One reason is that high school graduates don’t know – or don’t believe – that college is not the only way to a good future. According to Lincoln Technical College Director of Career Services Lee Koelliker “I think high schools still preach that [four-year college] traditional paradigm and it’s been difficult to get it shifted. We’re working to change some stereotypes.”

Auto tech jobs require plenty of smarts, though, says Schomp Automotive Service Director Jim Thurman. “The idea is that if you’re not smart enough, you can go work on cars. But working on cars today is more like being a mobile computer programmer. There used to be maybe 15 things that the computer controlled and now it’s 250-300.”

Bill Carmichael, CEO of Summit Automotive Partners, agrees. “This is a path for people with technical and critical thinking skills who are fast thinkers and productive. The opportunity to learn and grow without a college education is a great way to enter into a career.” Koelliker adds, “Technical college actually teaches skills students can universally use to sustain themselves for a lifetime.”

Training to be an automotive service technician requires investing some time and money, but far less of both than for a Bachelor’s degree. Auto tech programs lead either to Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification or an Associate’s degree. Programs are available through vocational schools and community colleges.

Denver metro area programs are available through Lincoln Tech, both Denver and Jefferson County Schools (Emily Griffith Technical College and WarrenTech), and at Arapahoe, Front Range and Red Rocks Community Colleges. Other community colleges throughout the state also have programs. Scholarships, such as the ones offered by the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association-sponsored Clear the Air Foundation, are available, as is financial aid. Several programs offer apprenticeships and training partnerships in conjunction with dealerships and manufacturers. Manufacturers frequently require techs to receive some additional training specific just to their vehicles.

With auto sales at the highest in years, the need for qualified technicians is also soaring. In Montrose, Flower Motors Fixed Operations Manager Ron Ellis says “It’s become such a problem that even when I have a full load I devote 45 minutes to an hour every day” to identifying potential employees. He travels to other cities to interview several candidates at a time, flying the most qualified to Colorado for a final look-see. “If you’re going to do a quality job in servicing new cars, you’d better have the best techs on the line.”

Auto service technology is proving popular among military veterans. Lincoln Tech’s Campus President Al Short says, “Veterans are one of our core groups,” with about 150 among the program’s 800 students. Vets can use their GI benefits for training.

“The opportunity for women is greater than it’s ever been, too, because it’s not just heavy work like it used to be,” Schomp’s Jim Thurman says.

Once a tech has secured a job he or she can expect frequent ongoing training through their employer to keep up with the latest automotive technology. “Becoming a master tech is the same as having an advanced degree,” according to Carmichael. “You can go anywhere, and based on certifications and work ethic, you would be highly valuable.” Lincoln Tech’s Koelliker agrees, “You can come out with a skill set and go essentially anywhere else in the world.”

“This industry offers great benefits and a good work environment,” says Thurman. It can also lead to other jobs, he points out. “I started as a tech and I’ve done all the pieces of the puzzle but I always gravitate back to service.”

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About timwjackson

Working every day for a better Colorado.
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