A local dealership is teaming up with Houston County Career Academy to facilitate an opportunity for students in its automotive technology program to become certified as a service technician while in high school.
Bondy’s Ford and Lincoln dealership in Dothan signed and formally announced the agreement on Wednesday.
Robert Braden, service manager at Bondy’s, said the program would give students a leg up coming into the profession. Braden has a unique perspective on vocational training, himself a product of a similar program.
“I remember probably 26 years ago, I was sitting in their seat having not a clue what I wanted to do,” Braden said. “But I see now the importance of getting an earlier start than what we had back then.”
Ford Automotive Career Exploration (ACE) is a program being developed with the objective to produce more credentialed post-secondary graduates available to Ford and Lincoln dealerships as entry technicians.
Bethany Toups, a field service engineer for Ford Motor Company, said the program will give students the opportunity to pursue web-based training to become certified in four different areas — base electrical, steering and suspension, brakes and climate control (HVAC).
Additionally, students will be able to shadow technicians and receive internship and mentorship and be considered for open positions as they graduate.
Students who graduate from the program will bypass up to three years of training that is typically obtained after high school at a post-secondary level.
The program is one of many that aim to pull from a younger talent base and streamline training to enable people to fill the growing number of open positions in the automotive industry.
“I think it’s important to note here that across the United States all automotive industries are having a really hard time getting people interested in the field, and our dealerships are growing and more and more cars are being produced, so we need more and more technicians,” Toups said. “So this is really our opportunity as an industry, not just for our company, but all car manufacturers — Toyota, Chrysler, GM — we all need technicians. So this is really our opportunity to really try to get students while they’re young, in high school still, and get them into a career that will provide them longevity.”
Bondy’s in Dothan typically pulls entry-level technicians from students graduating from Universal Technical Institute in Orlando, although they do have at least two technicians that have gone through HCCA’s automotive technology program.
“So now they’ll be fostering local students, local families, providing them with job and career opportunities so they won’t have to go all the way to Orlando or Atlanta, they’ll be pulling from the local community so that’s a huge benefit,” Toups said.
While addressing interested students, Braden said that the automotive industry is changing as well as the duties of service technicians. It’s not always dirty, greasy work, he noted.
“A lot of the stuff is computer programming now, you work on a laptop all day every day, but you’ve got to start on the base level,” Braden said.
Starting out, a service technician makes around $20,000 a year, but there is plenty of opportunity for growth and many in the field are earning six-figure salaries.
Director of the HCCA Glen Maloy said the idea came from the longtime automotive technology instructor Monty McCullough.
“We were trying to find a way to make our training relevant, and not just relevant to our students, but relevant to the community,” Maloy said.
McCullough said that it was important to have a relationship with a dealership to give insight on the current needs of the automotive industry through an advisory board and more tools to use instructionally.
“We don’t really use textbooks anymore but we use a lot of online training, we use a lot of videos, and lots and lots of hands-on training. This is going to give us more online training from a dealer’s point of view,” he said. “The advisory board helps sculpt the program…”
McCullough said students graduating the program will be able to obtain jobs upon graduation if they are willing to work.
“I tell my students, this is a trade that you can go anywhere in this country, anywhere, and get a job in this field… it’s that much in demand right now,” he said.