Auto tech program builds on success
Puyallup, Wash.—Any skills center or college level instructor will be candid about the value of administration support for their programs. And in the case of the Pierce County Skills Center (PCSC), Instructor Rob Anderson, who teaches the automotive technology program, is thrilled that Michelle Ledbetter is the school’s director.
Ledbetter, a former Career & Technical Education (CTE) teacher and high school principle for 10 years, is an enthusiastic proponent for CTE and is immensely proud of the automotive program at PCSC.
“We’ve been open here since 2010 and have seen growth in the CTE programs we offer, and Rob’s program is one our outstanding examples of success,” she said, adding that PCSC has more than a dozen programs ranging from aerospace machining/fabrication to culinary arts, construction trades to criminal justice.
Hosted by the Bethel School District, PCSC serves 10 districts in the county, including University Place, its newest partner.
“CTE programs are just as demanding as other high school programs, and often times more intense,” Ledbetter said. “But the result is that CTE programs can have a life-changing impact on our students.”
A longtime supporter of SkillsUSA, Ledbetter said PCSC has the largest chapter in the state and a number of students in various programs have gone to the national competition, including an automotive student last year.
Anderson, who started the automotive technology program at PCSC, said he began working on cars at age 14 and has never looked back. He worked at small independent shops, dealerships, owned his own repair facility, and taught at West Sound Technical Skills Center in Bremerton prior to joining the PCSC staff.
“We were able to put this program together from scratch and it was exciting to create a 7,000-square-foot, 11-bay shop, an interactive classroom (round tables and overhead projector), tool room, machine room, office, and parts bay in a building that once was a Safeway grocery store,” Anderson said, adding that the program has a number of late model cars donated by dealerships.
Three of the bays have in-ground lifts and two are drive-on lifts, one of them a Hunter alignment rack, said Anderson, a graduate of Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake, Wash. “We do a lot of training on alignment systems and the Hunter machine has been a workhorse for us.”
With diagnostics being a key element of instruction, Anderson said the program uses a multitude of diagnostic tools that include scan tools, TPMS scan and reset tools, digital multi-meters, battery starting/charging system testers, code tester, and more. “We’re blessed to have on hand such brands as Genisys, Innova, Launch, Midtronics, Autel, and others.”
With 63 students in two classes, Anderson is assisted by Gary Milbradt, who worked with Ledbetter for years at another school. “We have junior and senior students who are scheduled in two classes, one that runs from 7:55 to 10:25 a.m., and the other from 11:15 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.,” Anderson said, noting that the automotive program is often filled within hours after class schedules are available. “The program is about 70/30 shop time to classroom time. It’s important for our students to get as much hands-on training as possible, especially with engine systems and brakes.”
A NATEF-certified school since May of 2015, Anderson said the program follows NATEF and ASE guidelines and curriculum. “We get our students to prepare for 10 ASE tests and have had great success with students passing them.”
Anderson said a significant reason for his program’s success is the viability of the advisory council that is an active force in supporting the training class. “We have a very good mix of industry people that include teachers, dealership personnel, independent shops, technicians, service advisers, UTI, community college personnel, a Freightliner rep, and prior students now in industry. We get excellent feedback from the council as to what’s needed in the real world of automotive service and repair.”
Also a supporter of SkillsUSA, Anderson said one of his students won the state competition for Automotive Maintenance in 2016. “It’s a great program and we enjoy having our students do well in competitions.”
There is little doubt that Anderson is passionate about his teaching. “I love teaching the students and watching them struggle and work hard. I get giddy when I see them figure out a complex situation or scenario and understand what they are trying to do, and that ‘light bulb’ moment clicks in. I have to say that just doesn’t get old. I also love seeing graduates who get jobs in the industry and make a good living — that feels good.”