St. Louis I-CAR Collision and Automotive Job Fair breaks attendance records
Madison, Ill.—Like all worthy pursuits, reaching the top of his sport took a lot of “work into being great,” said three-time NHRA Top Fuel dragster champion Antron Brown, as he spoke to automotive service and collision repair students at the St. Louis I-CAR Collision and Automotive Job Fair Sept. 21.
Now in its third year, the fair continues to break attendance records. Nearly 800 collision repair and automotive service students from 13 Illinois and Missouri schools met with an assortment of prospective employers at the event organized by the St. Louis I-CAR Subcommittee. They experienced the excitement not only of cars racing down the Gateway Motorsports Park quarter-mile track during Friday qualifying for the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals but also the flurry of race team members working in synchronicity to tear down and reassemble a 10,000-plus HP nitro engine, usually in an hour or less.
In their matching t-shirts, the students were a visible contingent as they walked through the pits. Crew members reinforced Brown’s message of work ethic and dedication.
“This is a life-changing event for many of my students,” said Garry Briscoe, instructor at Lake Career and Tech Center in Camdenton, Mo. “It expands their knowledge of the outside world, as we are from a rural area. Although I emphasize it, many of my students do not realize the true size and scope of our industry. This trip does wonders toward confirming that.”
The fair helps meet the industry’s need for technicians, said Plaza Motors Wholesale Parts Manager Paul Heck, who said healthcare benefits are lately the biggest draw for technicians.
“I hear it every day. ‘Do you know of any good mechanics or good bodymen?’ There just are not enough out there.”
Ken Neuman, auto body program instructor at South Tech High School in St. Louis, added, “The races give students who have never had that kind of exposure a whole new appreciation of the motorsport.”
He prepared his students by helping them update their resumes and coaching them for interviews.
“These events can be a fast pass to employment,” Neuman said. “It is up to students and how much effort they want to put into them. They can make a good connection between employers and prospective employees.”
As vice president of the Women in Automotive & Collision (WAC) organization, which formed earlier this year, Jess Crump, who is also office manager at Meramec Heights Collision Center, said she talked with students while working at the WAC booth all day.
“Although one of the big steps is getting young people interested and steered toward programs in the area, the next step is keeping them interested enough to finish the programs, seek work in the industry, and utilize their skills,” she said. “There are so many opportunities available, and we have to communicate that. The kids were engaged, and many came prepared with resumes to hand in. I had some students ask fantastic questions about salaries, skills that are important, and even talk about work ethic and what a typical day looks like in the automotive field.”
The fair coincided with a complementary and adjacent NHRA/U.S. Army’s Youth & Education Services (YES) program, which is hosted at 15 of the 24 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series circuit in the fields of science, technical, engineering and math (STEM). About 300 YES participants stopped by the job fair, said Gene Slattery, CEO of Automotive Technology Inc., St. Louis I-CAR subcommittee member, and co-organizer of the fair.
After expenses were paid, the money raised by booth fees and sponsorships was more than $34,000, which will be divided among the seven attending collision repair schools.
Slattery, his son, ATI President Doug Slattery, subcommittee member and fair organizer, and St. Louis I-CAR Chair Shelly Jones, thanked the fair’s partners, schools, and subcommittee members in making the event a success.
“The total number who went through the NHRA/STEM program was 2,085 students, the largest group ever to come to the drag races,” Slattery said. “This job fair builds excitement and interest in our collision and automotive programs at all local and surrounding areas for vocational and technical schools.”