The Land of Opportunity

Diesel and automotive technician training programs, funding, support and changing the conversation

Automobile technology has propelled industry and commerce ever since Henry Ford unveiled the Model T in 1908. More than 100 years later, that hasn’t changed. Due to ever evolving engineering, science and technology, the automotive aftermarket now faces an employment gap like they’ve never experienced before. Today, there are more well-paying automotive aftermarket jobs than qualified technicians to fill them.

In this job-seekers’ market, many students entering the workforce report not having to look for jobs; they’re being pursued. And it isn’t uncommon for shops and dealerships to offer sign-on bonuses, educational reimbursement or compensation packages for automotive and diesel technicians right out of school. If you’ve ever considered, or even vaguely considered, a job in the automotive aftermarket space, now is the time to put pen to paper and truly consider your options.

The Starting Line

You’re probably wondering, “OK, that all sounds good, now what?” A great place to start is by going where the companies looking to hire are going, so you can find out what their requirements are. Many potential employers are looking to programs like those offered by Universal Technical Institute, McPherson College and Hennessey Performance Tuner School to help them fill their needs for qualified automotive and diesel technicians. That’s why we recommend reaching out to a program like one of these when you’re just starting out. It’s a good idea to gather as much information as you can, so you can choose the right program for your learning style and future career goals.

“When our students come in, we start assisting them immediately in regard to employment,” said Universal Technical Institute Avondale, Arizona campus president, Michael Romano. “We’ve been able to verify that four out of five of our students have been able to get a job. We take a lot of pride in helping retain our students and getting them out there to work. We’ve created contractual agreements with more than 3,800 dealerships and shops out there to offer our students some level of tuition reimbursement or incentive programming.”

Earning Potential

If the idea of going back to school feels arduous to you, consider this. In some cases, society today has made four-year universities to be the new grades 13, 14, 15 and 16. But what if instead of book work, written exams and studying things you feel like you’ll never use again, you got to learn skills in a hands-on environment and felt successful doing so? Now, add on that your earning potential could be as much as, or in some cases exceed, a professional with a four-year college degree. Are you interested?

“After 10 years of school, our research shows UTI graduates earn more than a four-year degree student coming out of liberal colleges and programs. The median income, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, is around $38,000 for an automotive technician and around $40,000 for a diesel technician,” Romano said.

Opportunities Ahead

To help you in your journey to becoming an automotive or diesel technician, we’ve put together program overviews as well as a few financial aid profiles from a few of our favorite programs. Check them out below:

Program Overview: Universal Technical Institute

UTI offers prospective students seven core education programs: automotive, motorcycle, diesel, marine, collision repair, welding and CNC machining. Everyone is required to take a core program before they can move on to a manufacturer-specific program, said John Dodson, vice president of Business Alliances at Universal Technical Institute.

“We don’t know if you’re a novice, but we’re going to begin teaching you from the basics” Dodson said.

Once you finish the core program, students can elect to move on to manufacturer-specific advanced training programs (MSAT), which have been created in conjunction with leading manufacturers to give graduates specialized, high-demand skills. UTI instructors refer to these as the “masters program” of technician school and say they are the most advanced, hands-on portion of the learning, simulating a real-life working environment as much as possible.

“We have more than 30 MSAT partners like Ford, BMW, GM, Nissan and Mercedes-Benz, just to name a few,” Dodson said. “By the time a student makes it into an MSAT program, they are more technically seasoned and almost ready to move on to their professional career.”

In these programs, the student to instructor ratio typically drops to around 15 to 1, providing students with more individualized targeted training. The students attire is also upgraded to match the specific manufacturer for which they are training. This professional appearance simulates the technician’s experience as they would appear on the job. These soon-to-be graduates not only have the training it takes to get the best jobs, but they also have the appearance and polish to set them on the path for success.

Financial Aid: Universal Technical Institute

If you’re a military vet, have special housing needs or need help finding a job to help pay bills while in school, UTI can help. They only ask that you have a passion for cars, the appropriate paperwork like a highschool diploma or GED, show up for school on-time and act professionally.

Most of UTI’s financial aid representatives are U.S. veterans, so they are well-versed in helping you navigate VA benefits while in school if that is what you need. UTI offers military veterans a Salute to Service Scholarship, which grants military veterans a 10 percent discount on tuition as well as military-only campus orientations so you and your admissions representative can discuss what’s important to you.

“Have your high school diploma or GED ready when you call; we also have a lot of former military that come through, so we’re prepared for those questions, as well. Call us, and a representative can assist you, whether it’s a question about your financial aid, VA benefits, diploma or housing, we like to make it pretty easy,” Romano said.

UTI encourages all of their prospective students not to let their past scholastic success or feelings about what a job in the automotive space may or may not look like influence their decision to learn more about their programs.

“If becoming a technician is something a person has an interest in, they should definitely explore it,” Romano said.

For more information on the UTI campuses, programs, Veteran assistance and scholarship opportunities, visit: www.uti.edu

Program Overview: Hennessey Tuner School

There is one school of thought when it comes to cars that goes a little like this: Learn to do the hard stuff, and everything else will seem easy. Summed up, that’s the philosophy of John Hennessey, president of Hennessey Performance and Hennessey Tuner School. Known in the industry for their out-of-this-world performance builds, Hennessey Performance has the kind of resume longtime car aficionados gawk at. Their highlight reel includes: covers in popular automotive publications like Road & Track, Motor Trend and Car & Driver; setting a Guinness World Record for production-car acceleration; testing an 800 horsepower supercharged Hennessey Ford Mustang GI as it runs 207.9 mph with Jay Leno on CNBC’s “Jay Leno’s Garage”; several appearances on BBC’s TV show “Top Gear”; out-racing the Bugatti Grand Sport Vitesse with the Hennessey Venom GI Spyder at 265.5 mph, claiming the title of World’s Fastest Roadster; and many more.

More than 10 years ago, Hennessey decided it was time to open the doors to his Lonestar Motorsports Park complex in Sealy, Texas, to students with a passion for performance.

“Students can enroll in our 14-week program. We have three different semesters to choose from: January-April, May-August or September-December. Each week is comprised of the basic building blocks of performance — not only knowledge and theory, but also hands-on work turning wrenches,” Hennessey said.

Students start out learning the basics like changing oil and learning all about the different processes, systems and mechanics that make a car work. After that, we get into more advanced things like power adders, performance, chassis and drivetrain modifications. Finally, they’ll take what they’ve learned in the shop out and do some on-road testing and even a little high performance driving training.

“We have a quarter-mile drag strip right outside our Tuner School facility. Students get to take their cars to the drag strip to test the performance on their vehicles once every four to six weeks. If they made a tweak to say, the chassis dyno, they might want to go to the track to see if they increased the power; they can investigate why it may have changed or if it picked up a certain level of performance at one speed over another,” Hennessey said.

Students will get exposure to welding and fabrication, engine calibration and conclude the class by putting in a supercharger. Hennessey jokes, he can’t fit all of his tricks-of-the-trade into Tuner School’s 14-week curriculum, but he does have one goal for all the Tuner School graduates.

“We teach our students everything they know, but we don’t teach them everything we know,” Hennessey said. “Our goal for a Tuner School graduate is to come out of the program with the basic skills to gain an entry-level job at our business or another performance shop.”

Hennessey and his team are a wealth of knowledge for anyone wanting to pursue a career in performance or the automotive industry in general. His advice when it comes to things you really want? Work hard, find a mentor and glean from those who have come before you. The automotive industry is one of the few left where you truly can, with enough tenacity, start at the bottom and work your way up.

“A few years ago, the top guy in my shop was the guy who had started out sweeping the floors. That’s how I knew we could make Tuner School work. I thought, what if we could develop our own entry-level program, make it a school and give these folks the basics? As long as there was a need and desire for enthusiasts who wanted to learn how to modify and work on cars and some who wanted to make it a career, why not try it?” Hennessey said.

For more information on Hennessey Performance and the Tuner School program, visit: tunerschool.com

Program Spotlight: TechForce Foundation

If you’re a parent, student, military veteran or current technician interested in exploring options for furthering your education in the automotive workforce, check out TechForce Foundation. TechForce Foundation’s mission is to champion students through their education and into careers as professional technicians. They do this with programs like their FutureTech Success program, of which the main goal is to pinpoint the learning style of an individual student to better understand if they are a visual, audible or tactical learner. Doing this helps the student gauge where they might fit best within the automotive workforce.

“[The FutureTech Success Program] taught me that I learn better with a hands-on program than with a classroom, and they have [continued] to support me the whole way,” said FutureTech Success participant, Leo G.

Many industry experts are recognizing the importance of evaluating learning styles, as well. They are seeing them as a crucial step for the success of students and, thus, the success and future of the automotive industry.

“We are doing a lot to support TechForce Foundation and the FutureTech Success Program. We’re excited that there is work like this going on to help inform friends and family of kids and military vets that have a passion for working with their hands that, ‘Hey, you have options; you can build a career, and there are funds available for you to take advantage of,’” said Shell Lubricants director of North America Influence Strategy and Engagement, Nancy Bruner.

Financial Aid: TechForce Foundation

If you’re a military veteran, student or existing technician who is wanting some help finding scholarships and funding available to you and learning how to make yourself the most likely to be awarded such opportunities, TechForce can help you. Over $1.5 million in scholarships and grants are awarded every year, and they want to give you your best shot at being a recipient.

For more information on TechForce Foundation and their programs, support and resources available to parents, students, veterans or existing technicians visit: techforcefoundation.org

 
Once you recognize the power you have and what it feels like to invest in yourself and the things you enjoy doing day after day, you’ll stop investing your time and money into things that do not truly ignite your passions. If you’ve ever had an inkling that you might enjoy a career in the automotive industry, explore that. If you’ve had a friend or family member who’s talked about it, encourage them to do the same. Start by reaching out to an expert or someone you see doing something really cool that you’d like to do one day; pick their brain and then take one giant leap toward doing something about your future goals.

“One day, I hope the jobs associated with this industry will get the label high-tech. They’ll be up there with engineers, doctors, lawyers and innovators,” said team lead for Shell Lubricants Brand, Influencer and Digital Teams, Mark Henry.

We want to be right there with Henry, and every other individual and organization who has made training programs, funding, support and changing the conversation surrounding the automotive industry a priority, because big things are happening in the land of opportunity.


Scholarship Spotlight: The Underdog Project

In 2016, SEMA and Shell Pennzoil set out along with actor, Sung Kang, most famous for his role in the “Fast and the Furious” franchise, to offer three special high school students an opportunity to explore their passions, think about their futures and bring some respect to a car that was never really recognized in the market — a 1972 Ford Maverick. They called it The Underdog Project. The goal was for students to be able to work alongside industry veterans to restore, rebuild a vehicle and then auction it off for the SEMA Memorial Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships and loan forgiveness to students pursuing education and careers in the automotive industry.

“We wanted to build a pretty wild Maverick that would get some respect while providing some students with a valuable learning experience,” said SEMA vice president of OEM and product development, Mike Spagnola.

For more information on the SEMA Memorial Scholarship Fund and other special program or scholarship opportunities, visit: sema.org/scholarships

Lauren Henderson

LAUREN HENDERSON is an experienced automotive freelance copywriter and a former full-time team member of NOLN. Her work has appeared across print, broadcast and digital mediums.