Opening doors to new facility and careers
Vallejo, Calif.—While California schools have been eliminating more than 400 technical training programs since 1995, according to the National Center of Education Statistics, a new, state-of-the-art auto tech facility recently celebrated its grand opening in September with 300 in attendance.
Located on a hill overlooking Vallejo, the Solano Community College Auto Technology Department’s new school looks more like a high-end luxury car dealership than a junior college facility.
Professor Paul Hidy has seen the new building come to fruition after taking over the school’s program back in 2013. Hidy, 56, has been teaching auto tech in California since 1998, so he knows about its trials and tribulations over the years.
“I saw a lot of good teachers and good programs, but they were poorly funded and limping along,” he said. “When I first saw the master plan for this program, I saw they were offering only four classes that were 10 units each. Today, we feature 12 courses that range from automotive fundamentals all the way to hybrid vehicle maintenance repair.”
Hidy knew when he landed the professor’s position that there were big plans ahead for SCC’s Auto Tech program, due to the passing of a local bond initiative that raised millions for trades-based education. After months of public input engaging more than 1,000 constituents, Solano Community College District’s Board of Trustees voted to place a Student/Veterans’ Affordable Education, Job Training/Classroom Repair Measure on the November 2012 ballot.
“Measure Q passed and it allocated $348 million rebuild technical schools,” he said. “Forty million went to Career Technical Education with $20 million earmarked for Auto Tech which was unprecedented, so we opened in August 2013 at a local high school and that’s how it began.”
By January 2014, the program had 24 students enrolled and Hidy was the only teacher on the staff, but just 18 months later they had 180 students. “We had to finally cap the enrollment, because it was all we could handle. Thanks to the support of the community, we now have three full-time instructors, a full-time lab tech and two new part-time teachers.”
The auto tech program offers a traditional two-year Associates degree, but also features a two-semester Certificates of Achievement program, where students can concentrate on training in specific areas of the automobile. Those abbreviated courses can allow one-year students to study maintenance and light repair — automatic transmissions and transaxles and electrical and body systems, for example.
In another program, funded by the California Energy Commission, the SCC Auto Tech Department has also developed an Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program. “We’re a leader in hybrid/alternative fuels auto training,” Hidy said. “We have several hybrid, EV and clean diesel training vehicles and training equipment.”
To succeed in today’s world of automotive repair instruction, an auto tech school has to be able to adapt its curriculum all the time to stay current and have the right equipment on-hand to teach effectively, he said. “Vehicles today are essentially computers on wheels and their level of sophistication is at an all-time high. Our instructors have to keep up with tooling changes that happen all the time and this new facility will help us to keep updated.”
Hidy and other school officials are currently talking with carmakers such as General Motors and American Honda, to possibly forge mutually beneficial alliances. “We want to work with the OEs, because they want more certified technicians and service writers and we can provide them. By providing us with vehicles for us to work on and internships for our students to get hands-on experience, these partnerships are something we want to pursue on an ongoing basis.”
Diagnostics is an exciting and ever-changing segment of the repair industry right now and Hidy sees a great future in it for many of his graduates. “We want them to know how to go through the proper steps and be solid diagnosticians,” he said. “They must know how to read flow charts, but we also want them to be able to decipher tricky codes, so we bug the cars in our lab and create issues for them to solve. We want them using the correct standards, tools and equipment in everything they do, so that when they’re out there on the job, they’re familiar with every aspect of the repair.”
By teaching their students life skills such as punctuality and accountability, Hidy and the other professors at SCC are preparing their students for long and successful careers. “The industry right now needs good, employable people and they’re willing to pay for them,” he said. “Our attrition is very low, because I think our students realize that this is a great opportunity and that we’re in a good place with this school and the support we receive.”