Car-maintenance program revs students' ambition

School-dealer partnership prepares youths for careers

December 14, 2003|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In an effort to reach out to potential workers in the automotive industry, Harford County car and truck dealers have established a partnership with Harford Technical High School in Bel Air.

The national program, begun locally this school year, is known as Automotive Youth Educational Systems (AYES). The school-to-career initiative helps prepare students for careers in automotive service.

"We need young blood in our industry," said Richard Glenn, the manager for AYES in Maryland. "Through this program, they are now working together to make sure what the school produces can be used by the service industry."

To do that, the program involves one-on-one mentoring time, dealership tours, classroom presentations and paid on-the-job training with the possibility of employment after graduation.

The program was started in 1995 by the automotive industry to address a growing shortage of qualified entry-level service technicians. Industry experts say this shortage can be attributed to the increasing number of vehicles on the road and the growing complexity of the electronics and computers used in vehicles.

"There's a substantial shortage in the industry," Glenn said. "The whole idea is to build up a relationship between the dealership and the student. Obviously, when they graduate, we hope they will work for the dealership."

Like other school-to-career programs being established in various industries, AYES helps bridge the expectations of dealership employers and what is being taught in the classroom.

The training will be invaluable, said Vernon Thompson, the automotive department chairman for Harford Technical High School and the school's AYES coordinator.

"It's a great thing for the kids," Thompson said. "Here at the school, they are just learning to do a lot of the work for the first time. By the time they are in the dealership, they are actually working on customers' cars. They're learning while doing."

The program also enables the students to stay on top of an ever-changing field.

"About 75 to 80 percent of the job now involves electronics or computers," Thompson said. "Everything on a car is controlled in some way, shape or form by electronics now. It's a very technically challenging job."

Dealerships are looking for workers with good diagnostic and problem-solving skills as well as knowledge of electronics and mathematics. They also must be able to adapt to changing technology as vehicles become more complex.

To qualify for the program, students must maintain a sufficiently high grade point average and meet attendance criteria.

Students' participation in the program begins in the 11th grade and continues through the 12th grade. There are five candidates for the AYES program this year at Harford Technical High School.

Those students are ready to enter the one-on-one mentoring phase of the program, to take place during the school's winter break this month and next. This part of the program enables experienced dealership technicians to educate, guide and encourage students during their internships.

The students will be eligible for a paid internship the summer after their junior year. During their senior year of high school, the students can work at the dealership while attending school. A scholarship is awarded to students to supplement a $3,000 set of tools.

Students say the program will open opportunities for them.

"I started in the program because I thought it was a good opportunity," said John Feryus, a junior automotive student at Harford Technical High School. AYES "will give us a better opportunity than what we already have. I think it improves the overall program and gives us a lot of incentive to keep up the good work."

Feryus is looking forward to entering the automotive industry right out of high school.

"The dealerships that take us, we are their future," Feryus said. "They need people like us learning the automotive trade out there early, getting accustomed to how things work."

Like Feryus, Eric Lucas, also a junior automotive student at Harford Technical High School, is excited about starting to work in the field.

"My dad's a mechanic, and I always enjoyed helping him out. I'm looking forward to getting out there. I learn more by hands-on instead of textbooks," Lucas said. "This is going to help us out with a job - to find one quicker, faster and easier."

Chris Boyle, service director and owner of Boyle Buick in Abingdon, helped get the program started at the high school.

"Harford Tech had such potential. Their facility is good, their teachers are wonderful, so we decided to try and get the program in there," said Boyle, who is the Business and Education Council chairman for the Harford Technical High School AYES program. "Some of my best people came out of Harford Tech. It is just something that is going to help out all the dealerships in the area."

Eleven dealerships in Harford County participate in the program. Boyle said it would help raise awareness about automotive repair as a possible career.

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