Today’s industry demands highly skilled technicians who know their way around a computer as well as a car. As a result, qualified auto technicians are in high demand in the rapidly changing world of automotive repair.
The Clark College Dealer Ready Automotive Technology program prepares students for this challenging and rewarding career through a two-year program that creates workplace-ready graduates.
“One hundred percent of our graduates are employed at a dealership,” said Tonia Haney, department head of Clark College’s automotive department.
The way Clark College does that is by helping students get jobs while they’re still in school. The program has relationships with many dealers in the Vancouver and Portland metro area, including Toyota/Lexus, Honda/Acura, Audi, and Dick Hannah Dealers. Each student works at a local dealership and is paired with a mentor while there. They are in class three days a week and can work at the dealership when not in class.
Haney said the program is intensive and hands-on, which not only helps prepare students for work in the industry but also has given the school a solid reputation for preparing work-ready graduates.
“After two years, they can be working solo,” Haney said. “We’re trying to grow the longevity of the technician, so they’re prepared for the job, not just today but for long into the future.”
The program is also working to expand the kinds of students who can excel in it. Originally, the students would work one quarter, attend classes the next quarter and then switch again. Haney said that was limiting who excelled in the program, as older students couldn’t necessarily spend an entire quarter not working. So two years ago, they restructured things so that students are working—and earning— continuously through the program. Now, she said, things have evened out, and the program is seeing some older students looking to make a career change.
Students learn current automotive technology by working in a 14,000 square-foot facility with simulators and vehicles donated by industry.
“We have a very new fleet,” Haney said. “I have multiple 2019 and 2020 model vehicles that we’re training the students on. They’re actually practicing on the vehicles in our labs that they’re going to work on at the dealership the next day.”
Students also receive certified training and graduate with credentials from industry organizations, including the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. The program also includes the Toyota Technician & Education Network, the Honda Professional Automotive Career Training, the Dick Hannah Initiative for Technician Education at Clark College, and the Audi Education Partnership.
The relationship between the program and Clark College works as a two-way street. The students get on-the-job real-world training and mentorship, and the dealerships get to start training the next generation of technicians early. find excellent, qualified hires.
“The dealers, they’re looking for a very well-rounded student, somebody who not only has the technical ability to fix the cars that come to them but also the professionalism to represent the dealership,” Haney said.
FUTURE OF THE INDUSTRY
Haney said even as the automotive industry changes, the job of a technician will always be around. She pointed out that many car companies aired commercials during this year’s Super Bowl highlighting their hybrid and/ or electric vehicles. Even as cars start to drive themselves, someone is going to need to be able to fix them.
“Personal transportation is not going to go away,” Haney said. “It may change slightly. Even if the car is now a robot and can do all of its decision-making, they’re going to break and need to be maintained.”
Additionally, even with newer technologies coming to cars, Haney said it will be a long time before more traditional vehicles are retired and stop needing maintenance.