Nathan Chukes (left) teaches Auto Body Refinishing and Robert McTaggart covers Auto Body Repair at Silicon Valley Career Technical Education. Between the two, they have more than 30 years as instructors at the school.Nathan Chukes shows Auto Body Refinishing students Daniel Ruiz (center) and Oscar Gutierrez how to sand a fender at SVCTE.

Coaching farm teams for major league play

SVCTE hits it out of the park as body shops all over Silicon Valley employ graduates, totaling approximately 2,700 students since 2001

San Jose, Calif.—With two veteran collision repair instructors leading the way at Silicon Valley Career Technical Education (SVCTE), this highly respected tech school produces the new metal technicians, painters and estimators of the future. By adapting in order to teach its high school-level students about the latest technological changes in the industry and by leveraging solid relationships with shops and local vendors, the school is setting up young people for ongoing success in collision repair.

“We have been doing this for so long that it’s instinctive,” said Nathan Chukes, who teaches Auto Body Refinishing, and was hired with Robert McTaggart, who runs the Auto Body Repair, in 2001. They estimate they have graduated approximately 2,700 students.

“We give them a combination of hands-on and classroom instruction. They get to work on actual vehicles in our body shop and they’re using the same tools that they will be using on the job. We want to simulate the real world out there as much as we can, so we teach OE procedures and always stress safety and things such as being detail-oriented and doing repairs correctly. This way, they won’t develop bad habits.”  

Chukes is a former journeyman painter with 28 years of industry experience and McTaggart has more than four decades of experience, working in almost every capacity within a body shop environment before landing the position at SVCTE. He has worked as a technician, an assistant manager and an estimator, so when he talks to the students, they listen, he said. Both instructors have ASE certifications in both structural and non-structural repair.

Known as the Central County Occupational Center (CCOC) prior to changing its name in 2013, the school offers a two-semester program for high school students from six school districts in the San Jose area who want to earn 30 credits.

They can take both programs in two years or just opt out after one, but either way the students at SVCTE are going to get a good education, Chukes said. Once his students complete either program, they can make a decent wage rather quickly. “I tell them that entry-level salaries start at $12-$16 per hour and quickly increase with skill and experience. A journeyman or experienced technician can earn $26-$30 or more per hour, plus benefits in the Bay Area.”

Both Chukes and McTaggart said they regularly run into former students at area shops, or see them when they visit after graduation to thank them for their education.

With strong connections within the collision industry, SVCTE is able to get its graduates placed in local Bay Area shops. “I am out visiting body shops all the time, to get things like old parts for the students to work on, and every once in a while, one of them will walk up to me and say thanks.  Occasionally former students will stop in here too, to talk to the current students and that means a lot. It's a good feeling Knowing that there are young people out there with successful careers in the collision industry, and that is extremely satisfying,” Chukes said.

He added that SVCTE encounters the same types of obstacles that most schools experience, such as recruitment and other issues. “ Filling our classes is a challenge at times. We’re at the mercy of these kids’ regular school classes and block scheduling that definitely affects the enrollment of students at SVCTE. Transporting them here without interfering with that is something we have to deal with.

Filling its classes is the first step at SVCTE, but the real deliverable for its auto body students is teaching them more than just how to paint or fix vehicles. “We want to teach them usable skills rather than just imparting information or theory,” McTaggart said. “We really work hard to give them a more complete education and, of course, we have to teach theory to a degree, but we don’t want them to go to a shop to work and then have to be re-trained. We want them to know enough that they can hit the ground running and be successful. We don’t want them to just get jobs, we want them to have careers in this great industry.”

Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.

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