Walt Commans, ASE Education Foundation manager, talks about shops participating in college automotive department advisory committees, intern and apprenticeships, and mentoring.Wendy Lucko (far left), automotive instructor at Pasadena City College, explains ways shop owners can help develop programs and curriculums that fit their technician needs and show students a path to shop ownership.

Shop owners, colleges brainstorm career paths for future techs

ASE roundtable of industry leaders open improved communication to tackle today’s aftermarket needs

Orange, Calif.—It takes a village to build an aftermarket career.

Walt Commans, ASE Education Foundation manager and Western states liaison between independent repair shop owners and community colleges, recently held a roundtable and working lunch at Karco Specialties, in Orange, that brought together 60 participants, including independent shop owners, 12 community colleges, and students.

 Commans, a 40-year auto repair industry veteran, said he was seeing a lack of involvement between shops and schools and felt the need to bring them together to discuss ways to strengthen ties and discuss other important topics for shop owners.

“It had been more than a year since our last roundtable and I saw a need for another one focusing on improving involvement between college automotive departments and shop owners” he said. “So, with the help of ASCCA members and Tom Brenneman, ASE Industry education Alliance manager, we put it together.”

Other topics included exit strategies for shop owners, making shops female-friendly, using smart phones as a tool, and building a customer-oriented shop culture.

In recent years, Commans said he had heard from schools that they didn’t know what the industry needed in terms of curriculum, and that shop owners felt what schools are teaching wasn’t meeting their needs.

The solution to this problem Commans found, was to bring shop owners into community colleges for informal networking events to discuss ways to eliminate those problems.

“Also, students don’t realize that most independent shop owners start out as technicians with no plans of becoming a shop owner,” Commans said. “We need to show them a career path to becoming a business owner so they know that they don’t have to turn wrenches their whole lives if they don’t want to.”

The high demand for automotive repair program graduates has resulted in students being hired by traditional dealerships before independent shop owners can meet them, Commans said.

“The roundtable discussions help students to see a new career path, and give independent shop owners the chance to start building relationships with potential employees earlier. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Commans brought the roundtable to Southern California after successfully holding them at Spokane Community College, in Washington.

“There we found that shop owners couldn’t leave during business hours and school meetings events were most often held during the day, so we shifted it to early morning or evening.”

Commans hopes to build on the success he’s created in the Western region by putting together a mini job fair in the spring and bring in 30-40 independent repair shops to network with students, faculty, and parents.

The success of this roundtable could be the start of something great for our industry, Commans said, and there is a good chance that ASE will take the program nationwide.

“We are working on how to take this to the next level and not fall into the trap of having a great program that doesn’t grow,” he said.  

 

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