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Foundation certifies automotive technology program in Chambersb

March 31, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

The days of the shade tree mechanic - when anyone with a little know-how could work on a car - are over.

But, with a generation of mechanics reaching retirement age, the future for automotive technicians is bright.

Earlier this month, the automotive technology program at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center was certified by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF). For the 60 auto tech students, that can translate into credits at area community colleges, or cut the time needed to achieve higher levels of certification, said automotive technology instructor Barry Bard.

"From an industry standpoint, we recognize it as the standard," Paul McMillen, president of the Pennsylvania Automotive Association, said of the NATEF certification. McMillen, whose organization represents the 1,100 new car dealerships in Pennsylvania, said it makes the program eligible for grants, equipment donations, industry support and scholarships for students.

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"There's virtually no support without certification ... Without the certification, you're considered a hobby shop," said Neil Bailey, the Automotive Youth Education Systems program manager for the association.

The nation is facing a shortage of 60,000 automotive technicians and, despite his organization offering a number of $5,000 post-secondary education scholarships, there are few applicants, McMillen said. NATEF certification should attract students to the program to help fill the void, he said.

The program is already one of the most popular at the school with a waiting list to get in, said James Duffey, the center's director.

Bard said the certification process took about a year and included a three-day inspection by NATEF officials. The certified areas of instruction are brakes, electrical and electronic systems, engine performance, engine repair, and suspension and steering, he said.

A knowledge of electronics and computer diagnostics is essential for today's automotive technician, Bard said.

"Factories aren't going to support schools that aren't certified," said Kermit Hicks, chairman of Hicks Chevrolet, who pushed for the certification. "I'm a real booster of career study programs.

Standing next to him in the automotive shop was Alan Shanholtz, the president of Hicks Chevrolet and a graduate of the center. Shanholtz "started as a co-op (student) in our collision shop and he's gone through all the chairs at the dealership," Hicks said.

Bard said some automotive technicians in the area make $50,000 or more a year and Bailey said diesel technicians can earn twice that amount.

"I just love working on cars. Plus, you always have work," student Tyler Daywalt of Chambersburg said as he tightened torque connector bolts on a Jeep transmission. A junior, Daywalt said his next step is additional schooling or training through the military.

Dustin Brown, another junior, agreed that as long as people drive cars, he will have a job. He said he will be looking for work with a dealership, or more schooling, after graduation.

"You've got to love cars and you've got to love problem solving, because that's all it is," Bard said he tells his students.

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