Building tomorrow’s techs at Fort Osage
Independence, Mo.—Instructors Bryan Compton and Bill Lieb “make technology come alive” for students in their Automotive Technology I and II classes at the Career and Technology Center at Fort Osage, which serves the high schools of Blue Springs, Blue Springs South, Fort Osage, Grain Valley, and Oak Grove.
“You need to engage their minds. You need to get them excited about it,” said Lieb, who teaches second-year classes and was named Educator of the Year at ASA-Midwest’s 2017 Vision Hi-Tech Training & Expo event.
Exercises as simple as measuring the specific gravity of a battery’s electrolyte with a hydrometer — or more advanced such as using a labscope to measure the pulse width of a fuel injector – reinforce what students have been taught in general education until now, with the battery illustrating a chemical reaction and the labscope showing dynamic graphs.
Reading about Ohm’s law is one thing; building a simple wiring harness is another. So early in the second semester of Lieb’s class, students draw a simple color-coded wiring diagram and design and build it to include three faults and either a resistor, a diode, an open, or a short. The exercise, which Lieb said is fun but valuable, also teaches the students soldering and shrink-tubing techniques. The wiring diagram includes testing instructions, and after they exchange harnesses with other students, they are tasked with troubleshooting them.
The program’s advisory committee is made up of about 60 members of the automotive service and parts industry, some of whom attend every meeting. The committee helps shape the program according to industry needs, Lieb said, and has helped him make the case for expensive equipment requests.
“To tell the school board you need an $8,000 scan tool, that’s going to be a little tricky,” he said. The department now has between $600,000 and $700,000 worth of tools, equipment, and instructional aids, including Ford and GM factory-level scan tools, powertrain bench trainers, and Electude simulators.
“Do I need lab scopes? No, but that’s what you’re going to use in the industry,” he said. “I want to prove to you that you’re a doctor of automotive. And we have to prove our answers. Prove why that mass airflow sensor is bad,” he said, with Compton, Automotive Technology I instructor and a 1991 alumnus of the program, also incorporating the use of scopes in the shop when possible.
The advisory committee has also assisted in getting AllData and ShopKey subscriptions to help students become familiar with how repair information is now accessed, Lieb said, noting that although repairs are now more complex than when he began as a technician more than 30 years ago, information to ease the process is now at a student’s or technician’s fingertips.
The program is certified by Automotive Service Excellence’s National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) for its Automobile Service Technology curriculum requirements, which include 840 hours of “combined classroom and lab/shop instructional activities,” according to NATEF, and builds upon the levels achieved through the Maintenance & Light Repair curriculum (540 hours). The bulk of the class and lab time is spent on Electrical, Engine Performance, Suspension & Steering, Brakes, and Engine Repair.
The advisory committee also asked for a measurement of what a student’s capabilities are after completing the program. In response, Lieb and Compton developed their own curriculum to get students prepared to be a licensed inspector for Missouri’s Motor Vehicle Inspection program, for which the Missouri Highway Patrol examiners usually come to the school in late April or early May, certifying the school as a private inspection station.
Ideally, each student who enrolls in the program would excel and graduate either employed in the automotive industry or continuing his or her education to do so. Lieb helps set up internships; job-shadowing of a tech, parts manager, or parts specialist; and field trips to see shops such as Custom Truck & Equipment, or college automotive programs, including the University of Central Missouri’s four-year program. That last trip has grown to include 120 students from all programs, not just automotive.
But students’ aptitudes vary, with some needing remedial assistance in reading and writing, and others may not be interested in automotive once they graduate. Those students can also benefit from their automotive exposure in other careers, Lieb said, including one who competed in the national SkillsUSA Automotive contest and went on to graduate from Pittsburg State University with a degree in electrical engineering.
Regardless of their career trajectory, graduates of the program will have learned how to solve problems on their feet and work professionally and safely as a team. Juniors read a book from the “Fish” series about the Seattle Fish Market.
“It’s about how to work as a team, how when things aren’t working right, how you get through that situation,” Compton said. “Because basically, that’s what we’re doing for two years; we’re working as a team.”