‘Built by the industry, for the industry’
Colorado Springs, Colo.—Progress is being made on a school in Colorado Springs to address one of the aftermarket’s biggest pain points — developing new techs who are well trained and prepared when they enter a shop.
The Automotive Institute of Science and Technology (AIST) will be ready for its first school year in August 2020. It has been years in the making and will train high school students in a four- to six-year program specifically for automotive careers.
“We’re establishing a school that’s built by the industry, for the industry,” said Walter Scott, senior vice president at Advance Auto Parts, adding that it’s not an Advance-only effort, but an industry-wide project.
As a P-Tech public charter school, students earn a high school diploma, an industry-recognized associate degree, and gain relevant work experience in a growing field.
“We’re presently leaning heavily on the repair industry, which is where our partners and fundraising efforts have been rooted so far,” said Anthony Williams, special project manager for CARQUEST Technical Institute and Advance Professional.
There are three disciplines, or pathways, at AIST, defined as business, engineering, and skilled trades.
“It will be an interdisciplinary program where classes such as math, history and English will be geared toward industry needs,” Scott said. “We want to develop the entire student around their future profession.”
School construction is ballparked
at $22 million on a 30-acre lot.
Funding partners (not disclosed) will also erect their company stores on the property so that it becomes a larger campus with internships. The 60,000-square-foot facility will obtain per-pupil state funding and projects to have 200 students when it opens in August 2020, initially for 9th and 10th grades. Additional grades and students will be added annually so that the student body will top off at approximately 600.
AIST will be implementing curriculums, classroom designs and project-based learning from school models across the country and unifying them under one roof.
“We’re taking the next evolutionary step in this type of schooling,” said Williams, who as a former technician that moved into education, approached Advance with the idea for the school to address deficiencies he noted in classrooms. “I was frustrated seeing students graduate into the workforce who lacked core essentials in training, such as basic math and science skills required to understand how systems function.”
Greg Bunch, of Aspen Auto Clinic, in Colorado Springs, and Chris Chesney, senior director of customer training at Advance Auto Parts, were soon on board with the idea and helped fast-track the school’s development using Chesney’s “Road to Great Technicians” as a map for growing their automotive careers.
Williams and his wife, Deborah, AIST’s principal, and the team are presently developing the curriculum with input from industry partners, which must meet all of Colorado’s academic standards as an accredited high school.
“We have to abide by all the regulations and state testing of traditional schools, but we’re doing it through a new style of classroom using real-world scenarios that require problem solving,” Williams said. “Our internships will also provide tangible workplace experience.”
All students will be taught fundamentals about hydraulics, metallurgy, and structure and design, which will be useful for collision students learning about crumble zones, for example. He added that mechanical students will be educated in undercar and underhood service and repairs.
When students reach the 11th grade, they will choose either business, engineering, or a skilled trade pathway. The school will feature a shop-environment classroom for skilled trades; 3D printing and CAD programming for automotive design in the engineering pathway; and a parts store, where student will learn about merchandizing, inventory management, supply and demand, economics and management.
By the 12th grade, AIST will have a collision-specific focus in partnership with Pikes Peak Community College with crossover classes.
All three disciplines will also co-mingle and collaborate on projects. “We’re trying to break down the walls from the front of the shop to the back and vice versa, so there’s well-rounded perspective of the industry,” Williams said.
Colorado Springs was selected because the state is relatively easy to establish charter schools and Advance has a strong presence in the state, where there’s big shortage of techs. “We’re rallying around the need for techs, not just in Colorado, but across the country,” Scott said. “Hopefully, it will serve as a model to allow us build up to 30 of these schools across the country.”
Williams added that AIST’s model can also be incorporated into traditional high school curriculums, so that those programs can be revamped, if they so wish. “The industry’s need for technicians is greater than any number of new schools.”
This spring and summer will bring a focus on community outreach. “Our biggest drive right now is to identify students who we’ll be a good fit for. We’re not designed for all students and we’re not designed to replace traditional high schools — we’re another option for students who prefer our type of learning.”
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• School website for parents and students: www.automotiveinstitute.org
• Funding/campaign site for industry people: www.autoinstitute.org