The same economy that is causing a wave of unemployment and job losses in this country is actually leading to a demand for jobs in the automotive technology field.
“When everybody’s budget starts getting hurt, what do people do,” Automotive Technology Associate Dean Jeff Parks said. “They hold on to their vehicles longer,…so there’s still plenty of maintenance being done on vehicles. It is a very specialized area, and there is a high demand for these trained people.”
With the increased demand for automotive technicians, the Tyler Junior College Automotive Technology Program is overflowing with students this semester.
“As of right now, we’ve had 173 people that were interested in the program as far as new, incoming students,” Parks said. “So far we have accepted 75 of those students that have passed our entrance exam.”
The program consists of all the areas of ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) credentialing so a student can take each one of the areas that eventually goes toward receiving a certification.
“If they’re ASE certified that means that the technicians working on your vehicle have passed a voluntary certification exam on different aspects of automobile repair,” Parks said. “We have two, one-year certificates and a two-year associate degree. Those students that get either the certificate or the associate degree will go to work in the area of independent shops or dealerships. They are going to work on vehicles in all the areas of automotive repair.”
The program consists of three and a half hour daily labs. During that lab period, students work on vehicles and the concepts that the professors are teaching at that time.
“I do demonstrations of different things they need to accomplish in the lab and then after that, I let them loose,” Automotive Technology Instructor Mir Alikhan said. “I’m still facilitating out in the lab, walking around and answering questions, but at the same time they are on their own pretty much working on their own vehicles at their own pace. The reason for that is so when they go out in the industry, they’re not going to have me there. They learn to look up information, use it, work on vehicles and learn at the same time.”
The Automotive Technology Program is both a secondary and postsecondary National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation certified program. NATEF is a sister company of ASE that certifies programs, so the educational programs meet national standards for everything from curriculum to facilities. This is the only stand-alone secondary and postsecondary NATEF program in the state of Texas.
“I think [the program] is great,” first-year automotive technology student and auto shop owner Chevy Sturgill said. “I think we have a great facility and the best tools. Everything I’ve heard from the industry side of it has been absolutely correct and safety-oriented and industry-oriented.”
Each automotive class is five hours, three lab credit hours and two theory hours. In a semester, a student can only sign up for two automotive classes, which makes up 10 hours of their schedule.
“Our program is laid out in a student-friendly way,” Alikhan said. “Students take one class at a time and concentrate on that one area. They start out on brakes, and for eight weeks they do brakes-lab and theory.”
The automotive technology program’s grading system is different from normal classroom systems. They have assigned points for different things and they receive points for their specific jobs. Every hour is converted in the point system to be 10 points. Each 10 points is equal to an industry hour.
“We treat our students just like industry technicians,” Alikham said. “An industry technician would flag hours in a day. If a job calls for in the book eight hours and they finish it in four hours, they still get paid for eight hours. That’s how we give them grades on it. If [students] are doing a brake job that calls for two hours, I give them 20 points, but if they finish it up in an hour they still get 20 points.”
During the labs, the students work on actual vehicles. The program receives their cars for the labs from four different sources; the students’ own vehicles, TJC faculty and staff vehicles, outside customers’ vehicles and donated vehicles.
“The best vehicles are customer vehicles that are either from faculty, staff or those student vehicles themselves because they have real-world situations and real-world problems,” Parks said. “They get that true experience of ‘these components are defective and these are the components that need to be replaced to get it back to what the manufacturer’s specifications are.'”
The Automotive Technology program also offers dual credit classes for high school students.
“Their labs are a little bit shorter, but they actually have more days that they are in the class,” Parks said.
In order to be accepted into the program, all incoming students must take and pass the Bennett Mechanical Comprehension test.
“It is a standardized multiple-choice test similar to like an ACT or SAT test,” Parks said. “[The exam] goes over basic mechanical concepts on everything from fluid systems to leverage to frictions.
Even though the Automotive Technology Program is occupied heavily by males, some female students also participate in the classes.
“I think it’s a very good experience for me because I do want to become a mechanic,” first-year automotive technology student Jackie Taylor said. “There are not many women out there that are mechanics, so I want to follow in my dad’s footsteps. I still feel like I’m a part of the team and there’s no difference.”
One of the requirements for coming into the Automotive Technology Program is that students must have their own tool set so they can work on these vehicles as they come through the door.
“We provide all the specialty tools,” Parks said. “The tools that students have to provide are the standard basic hand tools that they are going to need to have to go to repair vehicles in any shop. They’re pricey but the great thing about it is we have a standardized list. We have two professional tool companies that give us a bid on that list, and the bid on that list is between 55 and six percent off the retail price.”
All the students in the associate degree program have to do a co-op work at an area dealership or an independent shop towards the end of their program.
“I would say 99 percent of those students who go to work in a particular co-op, they are going to stay at that particular place,” Parks said. “If they are in the associate’s degree program in order to graduate, they have to pass that co-op class. If they like that student, they are going to keep that student because they understand this guy has done everything he needs to do to get an associate’s degree.”