Vocational training on rise, raising the next generation of auto mechanics

William Austin is nothing if not enthusiastic about how vocational training can fast track high schoolers into decent paying careers, such as auto mechanics.

Austin is principal of the Wise County Career and Technical Center in southwest Virginia. Among the subjects studied – or more correctly training received – are courses in all aspects of fixing vehicles.

The center has to stay at the cutting edge of the technology being used in the field if it wants to maintain national certification, says Austin.

"We are National Automotive Technician Education Foundation certified so (are) required to do certain things," Austin told Mega Dealer News. "We are required to have certain equipment, certain goals that we complete to receive that certificate. We try and make sure that we are on the cutting edge."

He cited the example of vehicle alignment equipment, which is all now done via laser. His students are trained in using this type of equipment.

"This is cutting edge technology used in dealerships, so that our students are trained and employable straight away," Austin said.

This is all part of a growing trend across the country toward Career Techical Education (CTE), a renaissance of the idea that young people can be trained to work in specific industries, essentially vocational education.

"This is not using stuff that went of business 10 years ago," Austin said. "The students are sitting in cars, working on laptops, and it is not just to diagnose the problem but working on online computer programs to figure what parts are needed to fix the problem."

It works, said Austin, citing a center survey that tracks students who are now employed. As of the end of last year, 81 percent of those who went through the most recent auto mechanic program are now employed, he said.

CTE is a nationwide-established program that aims to train high school students to work in specific industries. The idea is to target those industries that need people and train them accordingly.

Austin said that at Wise, they help students apply for licences to work in particular fields, such as as nursing assistants and those working as cosmetologists.

"This is so they are employable immediately," Austin said. Students also receive Occupational and Safety Health Administration training prior to graduating. That means employers do not have the training expense of these new employees.

But while CTE is a route to work without having to navigate the time and expense of college, Wise's program also helps ease the way to further education, said Austin, who is also a CTE supervisor in Wise County.

The center works with local two-year colleges so that credits can be carried from high school. Further, he said, students get a grounding in skills that will help in four year courses, with some going on to study architecture and engineering.

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Organizations in this story

Wise County Career-Technical Center 621 Lake St. N.E. Wise, VA 24293