“We do our homework in the garage.” That’s the tag line on my colleague’s business card.
He’s an Automotive Service Instructor, of course, and an ASE Master Technician.
The course Rob Jakes teaches—Automotive Service Technology–is the second in a two-year program that can culminate for high school seniors in acceptance into a vocational college or an immediate job in the local work force. “I have students in the automotive repair departments of dealerships all over town,” Mr. Jakes told me, “and some students are already at Subaru-Isuzu.” Many of his students attend Lincoln Tech, the University of Northwestern Ohio, and Ivy Tech, to name a few post-secondary schools near our community.
The day I visited his class, Mr. Jakes’ students were working on the wheel assembly on a faculty member’s car. I watched and took pictures, tried to follow the language when I couldn’t get close enough to the action: ball joint, brake pad, piston, fuel injector, torque wrench, axle. The students handled the language and the machinery with ease.
“They learn the language in the first year course,” my colleague explained. “No room for not knowing it here.” In that first year course, there’s so much vocabulary that the teacher uses Quizlet to help the students learn. They take an engine apart in much the same way they’d dissect a frog in biology to learn anatomy and physiology. The Automotive Service Technician program is a sequenced learning program with an academic as well as mechanical focus.
In their second year, the students work on actual vehicles. One of our local industries, Subaru-Isuzu Automotive (SIA), donates “dead cars” to Mr. Jakes’ program. The students bring them back to life. Once a week, the students work on faculty vehicles, and on Fridays, they can bring in their own cars and work on problems that can be resolved in a two-hour class period.
While 70% of the time students are engaged in hands-on work with vehicles, this class is nothing like the “auto shop” stereotype of twenty-five years ago when Mr. Jakes first began teaching. In the first place, the students use an online textbook. “In the day,” Mr. Jakes told me, “there were no textbooks. A student would once in a while look in a service manual to figure out what was wrong with a vehicle and how to fix it.”
Because cars today operate on computers, service technicians must have sharp reading skills and advanced technology skills to diagnose and repair the vehicles that come into a shop. Repairing cars is no longer a trial and error business, and a laptop computer is a standard part of a service technician’s toolbox.
When a car comes into the auto shop at McCutcheon High School with a problem, the first thing the students will do is check their own laptops for a TSB—Technical Service Bulletin—on the vehicle. If there’s no TSB, they might visit a technical chat room to learn whether the problem has occurred somewhere else in the country and how another technician has dealt with it.
For example, one day recently, the outside mirror on our principal’s car was loose. It is a new car, but when he was driving down the highway, he noticed the mirror vibrating. He brought the vehicle into the shop and one of the students, Cody, went right to an online chat to find a solution for the problem. He found the fix: Toggle the button inside the car three times to tighten the mirror. Think what might have happened in a shop if the service technician hadn’t had the initiative, and the critical thinking skills, to look online for a solution. The customer might have been told he needed a new mirror. $300.
Cody, who is enrolled in Mr. Jakes’ class for an optional 3rd year, plans to save money for college next year and then enroll in a technical-vocational program after that. Right now he works after school at a tire store where he uses a computer to diagnose problems with pressure and balance.
I asked him how long he’s known he wanted to be an automotive service technician. “Since middle school,” he said. “My initials spell CAR,” he added with a smile.
Before he finishes high school, Cody will have logged three years in the Automotive Service Technician program and received at least six hours of dual credit with our local community college. He will also have the opportunity, at the end of his senior year, to earn student certification in four areas: brakes; electrical; steering, suspension and alignment; and engines. He’ll need at least two years of work in the industry to be eligible for just one of the eight advanced exams needed to be a Master.