Industry partners fuel ARC, grad jobs

American River College offers flexible schedules, class/shop balance, real-world prep

Sacramento, Calif.—For the first time in years, the automotive service technology program at American River College (ARC) has more jobs available for its graduates than it has students trained to take those jobs.

John McCormack and Ben French, who co-chair the program, said their situation reaffirms the need to attract more young talent to the automotive industry, but it also proves the importance of industry support for modern automotive educational programs.

“This industry is changing so fast that programs without industry connections aren’t going to last very long,” McCormack said.

The two-year automotive service technology program at ARC is a NATEF Master-certified program, an Automotive Youth Educational Systems school, a CAP Chrysler-certified school, and part of the National Coalition of Certification Centers for Snap-on, otherwise known as an NC3 school. It won the SkillsUSA state championship in 2011 and 2012, and its sister program, automotive collision technology, also won the SkillsUSA state championship in 2012, McCormack said.

McCormack said the keys to success have been maintaining good industry relationships and fighting to get as many grants as possible to buy equipment and tools each year. The program currently works with the Greater Sacramento New Car Dealer Association (GSNCDA), which has donated money and vehicles to the school for the past 15 years. He added that working closely with the California Energy Commission, Snap-on, and local area high schools have also contributed to the program’s success.

Students are offered certificates and degrees, and the program is designed to be flexible in order to meet their scheduling needs, French said, and depending on the general education courses they take, they are awarded an AA or an AS in Automotive Technology upon graduation.

“We want our students to be able to come in and build a schedule that works for them no matter what their educational goals are,” French said. “We offer a morning class session from 7:30 to 12:10, a midday session from 1 to 5:40, and a night session from 6 to 9:30, as well as a weekend course. No matter what a student’s schedule, our program can accommodate it.”

French added that the maximum student-teacher ratio is currently 24:1, but he and McCormack are pushing to lower it to 18:1. The annual student enrollment in the program is approximately 500 students, some pursuing two-year degrees and some enrolled in certification programs such as SMOG, air-conditioning service, undercar and transmission service, to name a few. 

Through its involvement in NC3, ARC teaches strategy-based diagnostics using Snap-on scan tools and an array of information systems. Once a year, French and McCormack both visit Snap-on headquarters in Kenosha, Wis., for training on the latest updates in Snap-on scan tool technology, and ARC is able to buy Snap-on scan tools at a 50-percent discount with annual free updates, McCormack said.

“All of our diagnostic courses push critical-thinking skills,” McCormack said. “Snap-on did its own research and found that most technicians only use about 10 to 30 percent of a scan tool’s available features. Because we’re an NC3 school, students who take our classes become certified by Snap-on in multiple areas such as multimeters, Solus, Modis and Verus diagnostic tools.  We teach the Snap-on scan tools first, and then dive into engine performance and electrical diagnostics.”  

ARC also pays annual subscription fees for factory scan tools from Ford, GM, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Kia in addition to information subscriptions from ShopKey, AllData, Identifix, iATN, and Chrysler. “Through our Data Acquisition course, students learn how to look up information online and are able to get certified in using the most common information systems out there, including factory Chrysler certification through our CAP Local program,” French said.

French added that he and McCormack always keep in mind that their job is to prepare students for a career.

“The heart of my responsibility as an instructor is to educate my students to a level where I know they will be competent and skilled working in the field,” he said.

That means preparing them to pass the ASE tests and developing real-world experience through ARC’s Skill & Speed Development course, which students can take up to four times throughout the program for different repair processes.

“Our core class structures are set up to be a 50/50 lecture-to-lab ratio, but we focus heavily on lab time,” French said. “The additional Skills & Speed Development class is 100 percent lab class. There is hardly any theory in the class as it’s designed to prepare students to work in a shop doing real-world jobs quickly and effectively.”

ARC has also created industry ties so that students enrolled in the automotive program can buy tools from SnapOn MATCO, MAC Tools, and Craftsman up to a 50-percent discount while enrolled (ARC provides all tools needed in class for currently enrolled students), and both French and McCormack actively reach out to place students in paid and unpaid internships.

“We visit every dealer that is part of the GSNCDA every semester to place our students in unpaid internships that may lead to a full-time position,” McCormack said. “We’ve had students go directly from doing an unpaid internship to being a line tech. We also have a work experience program and an instructor devoted to placing students in jobs at everything from auto parts stores to independent aftermarket repair shops. 

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