Dothan Technology Center, a Dothan City Schools institution, is revving up its automotive service offerings through a four-prong partnership with the local automotive industry, city leaders, and Wallace Community College.
“We’ve got automotive companies providing cars, providing technology, equipment that they need so our goal is to graduate highly-trained technicians, which we all need,” owner of Mike Schmitz Automotive Group and School Board Chairman Mike Schmitz. “Everyone in the automotive business needs them, so we’re excited. And they’re good jobs.”
Through state-funded workforce development grants available to the Alabama Community College System, Wallace will be providing an instructor onsite to teach its Automotive Technology program with free tuition for Dothan Technology Center students accepted in the class.
This year, Wallace is offering the first two introductory classes, which are Fundamentals of Automotive Technology and Electrical Fundamentals. After the 2019-2020 school year, officials hope to be able to offer first year students a second year pathway as well. Career Technical Director Chris Duke said. The classes put students on a career path to earning a technical degree with the college, if they choose to do so.
“Partnering with Wallace Community College and then offering our students to take dual enrollment courses at Dothan Tech is a great advantage for our students and for increasing the number of students that have the opportunity to go into this industry,” Duke said.
The job growth in the automotive industry, when it comes to manufacturing, sales, and automotive services, has increased significantly in Alabama since 2011. The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics is reporting preliminary numbers for June showing 14,000 people, up from 10,100 in the same month eight years ago, are working in the industry.
“We’re always looking for technicians,” Schmitz said. “So it’s definitely important to me to have trained, skilled technicians that we can hire locally and not have to try to look outside the Wiregrass. There’s a shortage of skilled automotive technicians. And all the dealerships and independents need it.”
Dean Mitchell, Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, put the job outlook in the area into perspective.
“There is an abundance of automotive technician career opportunities in the Dothan area,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell pointed out that Indeed.com, the world’s No. 1 job searching website, lists almost 50 current openings in the automotive field. In addition, estimates show that Southeast Alabama will experience an average of 130 annual job openings in this field over the next seven years.
“The automotive technician field offers young people an exciting and potentially lucrative career,” he said. “The Dothan Chamber applauds the partnership between Dothan City Schools and Wallace Community College to help local businesses fill this important need.”
Dothan City School officials sat down with around 30 Wiregrass area automotive dealerships and services shops and the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce to see how they could work together to build a pool of applicants for positions that are already here in the area.
“One local shop recently told us they had three immediate openings, and they could not attend this meeting because of the work they had to complete and their shortage of technicians,” Mitchell said.
“We explained our vision moving forward, we also shared with them some resources to implement the college program on our campus,” Duke said. “Our local automotive shops and dealers are assisting by offering some tools, offering partnerships and an advisory role and donating some vehicles so that we can work on them.”
He added that it is preferred the vehicles are in working condition and less than 10 years old, so that students can work on technology as new as possible.
Duke added that part of the partnerships with area businesses would be to form an ongoing relationship with students – to come into the on-campus shop to discuss their expectations, allow students to take fieldtrips to their shops to see what it’s really like in today’s industry.
“The main thing about this is our community sees that we’re pooling resources for a common good,” Duke said.
Duke added that the partnership is made possible under the guidance and leadership of Superintendent Phyllis Edwards. “She is a champion for career tech education,” he said.
An existing Natef certified automotive shop is already on campus, waiting to be outfitted with the latest tools and tech.
“As we develop – we’re in its infancy – we want our students to obviously take classes and when an internship and co-op opportunity becomes available, we want to them to have an opportunity to do that,” Duke said.
The program is similar to the automotive services program at Houston County Career Academy, where students can receive an Automotive Service Excellence certificate. HCCA Director Glen Maloy said the certificate can give students a “leg-up” in the industry, because it shows they have a working knowledge of automotive technology.
“We have a relationship with several automotive businesses,” he said. “Pretty much every senior that leaves our program, we have a job waiting for them.”
The DCS school board still has to formally approve the new dual enrollment agreement for the enhanced career technical offering, as well as an agreement with the Alabama College of Aviation in Ozark for a new aviation technician program.
DTC will also be offering a new logistics career technical course, which will give students hands-on experience with handling inventories, and carrying out orders. A new computer science class, part of Project Lead the Way, will also be offered at Dothan Preparatory Academy to expand its career tech offerings.
“I would just say that it’s exciting to be a part of career tech education at Dothan City schools and I’m looking forward to the future,” Duke said.