HOLDREGE, Neb. (AP) - Finding qualified automotive technicians has been a struggle for years at Janssen Auto Group.
“Even back when I was in college, it was high demand. It’s hard to hire techs,” Janssen told the Kearney Hub.
The perception of automotive technicians has changed during the years, and it is a reason people aren’t as interested in it as a career, he added.
“If you watch the old shows in the ’50s and ’60s, being an automotive technician was something that was a proud position. Everybody wanted to do it. Unfortunately in the last 10-20 years the perception of an automotive technician is a grease monkey. They are dirty, they work with their hands,” Janssen said.
What people may not realize is the intelligence automotive technicians need to work on vehicles and that they can earn up to six figures, Janssen said.
Janssen had an idea two years ago to offer a program to train high students in automotive technology to help solve the technician shortage. Janssen Auto Group partnered with Central Community College, Phelps County Development Corporation, Holdrege Public Schools and ESU 11 to offer the class to high school juniors and seniors to earn dual high school and college credits.
Janssen had the idea to start the program two years ago when he learned about the Pistons to Pathways program in Wisconsin. He began researching to see why high schools don’t offer automotive technology classes.
“I figured out the reason was it’s hard to hire instructors in these types of courses anymore. Secondly, it’s expensive to offer these types of labs because you have to have the space for it. You have to have the equipment and you have to have the space,” he explained.
Janssen had the space and a qualified instructor in longtime automotive technician Jeff Ketelsen. He began reaching out to Central Community College and Holdrege Public Schools, which were both on board with the idea. He knew funding would be needed for the class so he reached out to Phelps County Development Corporation. PCDC is paying the tuition and fees for the students for the first year of the program. The Carriage House Foundation, the charitable arm of the Nebraska New Car and Truck Dealers, donated tools for the program.
In order to get enough students involved in the class, Janssen reached out to ESU 11 to bring in students from other schools.
“We are a regional community here. It makes sense to open it up to a broader footprint to get kids into the program,” said PCDC Executive Director Ron Tillery.
With eight students enrolled from Holdrege and Wilcox-Hildreth Public Schools, the class officially kicked off this semester at Janssen & Sons Ford in Holdrege. Ketelsen teaches the class two nights a week at the dealership.
Students learn basic shop functions using various equipment, including hand tools, special tools, measuring tools and fire equipment. Students can begin taking the class as a junior. They can take one class each semester and one during the summer to complete the five required courses to earn a certificate. Those who complete the program are eligible to apply for the Transition Advantage Scholarship, which pays for 12 credit hours of CCC courses after they graduate high school.
The class provides a jump start for a future career for students like Rylee Hursh, a senior at Wilcox-Hildreth.
“In the future I want to open up my own shop. I thought this would be a great opportunity to come in and get a little beginning on mechanics and stuff like that,” Hursh said.
Hursh plans to attend a two-year college to study automotive mechanics. Janssen hopes the students will continue to pursue a career in automotive technology and return to the area to work.
“It works out well because I have the instructor and the facilities. That is the reason the collaborative effort is worthwhile. I’ve got what they need and they’ve got what I need,” he said.
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