A Win-Win for Students and Dealerships
by Cynthia Tintorri; photos by Patricia Canavan,
Preparing automotive technicians has always been a hands-on affair. Classroom learning is important, but it's under-the-hood experience that makes for excellence. Finding auto service shops willing to give students that experience can be difficult.
In a new program set up between Brown Daub Chevrolet in Nazareth and Northampton Community College, however, everyone appears to be winning.
NCC has been a GM ASEP (General Motors Automotive Service Education Program) school since 1989. The program combines theory and practical application, and allows students to alternate between college and hands-on experience at a sponsoring worksite. But the new intern program at Brown Daub goes a step further in having students get acclimated to the dealership in all aspects of customer service.
"Traditionally, students were given a mentor to oversee their work. That person had to take time away from their own work to train the intern, resulting in a loss of production," according to Jack Dungan, service manager at Brown Daub Chevy and the creator of the new program.
"We've taken the student and put them into a productive role," Dungan says. "They start out working on the service drive. When a customer comes in with their car, the intern greets them and performs a free, multi-point inspection on their car while the service order is being written up. This increases the student's confidence in dealing face-to-face with customers, and it's a benefit to customers who get the instant gratification of seeing that their car is already being serviced."
When the service drive is taken care of, the interns report to a shop foreman who assigns them to their own GM Master Technician, a senior auto tech professional who trains them by having them assist on his own jobs. "Instead of the intern being left alone to figure things out themselves in the 'sink or swim' traditional system, and then have to call over a mentor when they get stuck or have a problem," Dungan elaborates, "the student watches, helps and learns by assisting the Master Technician be more productive on his own jobs."
All dealerships need technicians, Dungan says, but unsupervised, interns can be an added expense to a dealership. "They can make mistakes. In the new program, students are never unsupervised, with the added benefit that they're receiving coaching all along the way."
NCC's Director of Automotive Technology Warren Farnell is very pleased with the program. "Instead of having just one intern at a time at a dealership - because they are expensive and time-consuming to train in the traditional way -- we have three interns here at Brown Daub Chevrolet. It makes the college-to-work transition much easier, and it forms good habits right from the start, because the student builds up to doing things the right way," Farnell explains.
By the time they're finished with their schooling at NCC, Brown Daub Chevy will have a graduate who is 80 percent trained as a GM technician. The student has already been hired by the dealership as a paid intern, so they've already got a job, even before they graduate from NCC," Farnell says.
The new program has been operational for about four months at Brown Daub. Dungan hopes other dealerships will adopt the program, because he believes it will promote more loyalty and less job-hopping from dealership to dealership. "We also like it because we're not hiring someone off the streets. We know they're being taught well at NCC. And we have great retention of our technicians who start as interns," he attests.
The three NCC interns currently in the Brown Daub program are finding it beneficial as well. "We're gaining a tremendous amount of knowledge, considering that we start here with no experience," says Ian McEnaney. Andrew Miranda and Joshua Zanger concur. "We're applying what we learn in the classroom to real-world situations," Zanger says. Miranda appreciates the "great opportunity to help students get jobs in the field."
Indeed, Farnell says NCC auto tech grads are getting jobs in the field, but he wishes dealerships would be more proactive rather than reactive in their need for technicians. "I often get calls from dealerships asking for a recent graduate. I laugh and have to explain to them that our graduates enjoy a 100 percent employment rate at graduation!"