Aims Community College raises bar for automotive students
Windsor, Colo.—The instructors at Aims Community College, a NATEF-accredited school, know that keeping abreast of the latest automotive technology can be cumbersome, but is absolutely necessary in order to produce employable graduates.
Fred Brown, director, Automotive Programs & Aims Automotive & Technology Center, and Collision Repair Instructor Mike Hanscome, recently met with Parts & People to review their school’s philosophy and teaching methods for the 200 students who attend the Windsor campus, one of four in northern Colorado.
Using the “Gretzky analogy,” Brown said secondary and post-secondary students are instructed to “skate where the puck will be, not where it is.” Brown echoed Gretsky, saying with a smile, that more times than not, positioning works 80 percent of the time, and the other 20 percent of the time it pays to have good teammates. It’s no different in the work world, he stressed.
With a 98-percent employment rate for graduates, Aims officials appear to be on to something.
“We have to move curriculum around to match industry needs,” said Hanscome, who in addition to being a collision repair instructor, spent 20 years working as a technician in the industry. One example, he said, is the different types of structural metals and repair techniques that are constantly changing, which demand new repair techniques.
Colleague and fellow Aims instructor Kyle Cadarette is also I-CAR’s trainer for northern Colorado. That gives the school additional access to the latest courses and repair techniques, such as silicone bronze welding. In all, the collision curriculum covers refinishing, welding, structural repair, non-structural repair, and suspension and steering. Currently, a combination of 37 secondary and post-secondary students are enrolled in the program, an increase over last year.
“The biggest misconception is that you can’t make any money working in this industry,” Hanscome said, adding that top painters or bodymen can make up to $100,000 a year. Counselors and parents have been pushing students into four-year colleges and universities for so long, that it takes effort to get them to consider career and technical education (CTE) as a viable career path.
“As long as humans need to get from point A to point B, regardless of if the car flies itself or drives itself, the collision repair industry will be here,” he said, alluding to the fact that accidents will continue to happen and vehicles will need repaired.
Keeping up on technology can be a bit of a “Catch 22” situation, Hanscome said, pointing out that there’s always a balance between investing in new technology and making sure there’s still viable repair knowledge that the students will actually use as they embark on their careers.
Given the multitude of changing repair techniques, technicians need to back off speed and make sure cars are being properly repaired, he said. In the next five years, he estimates that cycle times will not be as big as a factor as they are today.
“Some shops may try to push vehicles out too fast and that creates mistakes,” he said. “We work for the person that owns the car, not the insurance company.”
The school also teaches the final step to a repair, refinishing, using NAPA’s Martin Senor waterborne paint in two Global Finishing Solutions (GFS) downdraft paint booths.
The school purchased several pieces of equipment to enhance the collision repair program, which includes a newer Chief Goliath pulling rack used in tandem with a Blackhawk Shark measuring system to accommodate larger pickup trucks; a nitrogen plastic welder for bumper covers; and a mobile downdraft prep station, the Duster 3000.
Collision repair students started competing in the SkillsUSA competition five years ago, many ending up in the national top 10 finalists. A recent Aims CC graduate, Ben Falconer, placed first in the national championship in the Refinishing division. He is now a Restoration Technology student at McPherson College working on his bachelor’s degree in McPherson, Kan.
In addition to Collision Repair and Refinishing, Aims Automotive and Technology Center in Windsor also teaches Automotive Service Technology, Upholstery, and Light Diesel Repair.
Regardless of the program a student is enrolled in, Brown said all the curricula are online via CDX Learning Systems software, designed for “today’s” learner.
The training modules, which align with ASE testing, include a reinforcement video on the procedure, a short quiz, and a full test. The procedure videos are shot from the technician’s viewpoint, he added, as if the students were doing it themselves.
Instructors have the ability to gauge how many times a student has viewed the video and how that translates into the actual hands-on portion in the shop, Brown said. “It helps us zero in on the skill sets.”