LIMA — Grease monkey?
Steve Klausing knows all about that term.
He’s been there, done that.
Klausing turned wrenches for 16 years after graduating in 1978 from the automotive program at the University of Northwestern Ohio. He’s had his share of grime on his hands and elbows as well as in his hair.
That’s not the case with today’s mechanics, at least not as much.
Being an automotive mechanic today is different than when a dad popped open the hood of his ‘67 Chevy on weekends in the back yard. It’s more about using critical thinking skills to help determine what is wrong with a vehicle, said Klausing, who now is the head of the automotive division at the school, a position he’s held for 25 years.
“We are not grease monkeys, and we are not just technicians, but we are on the borderline of engineers, diagnostics and electronics,” Klausing said.
Students need to be life-long learners because vehicle technology is constantly changing.
“We can train students to change brakes and basic things, but they really need diagnostics because the cars in the last 20 years are changing constantly with computers on the car,” Klausing said.
The demand for these new-skilled auto technicians is at a premium.
UNOH currently has 980 students enrolled in its automotive technology program, making Lima a hot spot nationwide when automotive maintenance franchises go hunting for mechanics.
There are roughly 750,000 auto techs and mechanics nationally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. To meet anticipated demand and respond to attrition, the bureau estimates the industry will need about 46,000 more technicians by 2026 — a 6 percent growth rate from 2016. Those technicians are more likely to find well paid jobs and experience rapid wage growth. Technology is also transforming blue-collar work places, making more advanced skills in demand.
Those facts are not lost on Tony Molla, vice president of the Automotive Service Association, North Richland, Texas.
“A statistic that is scary is that 50% of the people who are servicing vehicles in the country right now are baby boomers like me. They will be eligible for retirement and baby boomers in general have been retiring at a rate of 10,000 a day,” Molla said.
An automotive tech can make from $35,000 to $70,000 or more depending on the associates’ ability and where they are working.
“Finding the talent we need for the future is the biggest challenge facing our industry at the moment. Automotive programs are being closed because they are expensive to run and there is a societal bias against trades where students are encouraged to get a professional degree,” Molla said.
The UNOH way
At UNOH, they think differently.
The university offers an associates degree in applied technology that covers an automotive diesel degree or an automotive technology degree. After graduating students can go right to work in the automotive field. The also have an option of attending two more years and obtain a bachelor’s in business degree.
UNOH offers an ATS degree that will allow them to run their own business or be a supervisor in the automotive industry.
“You can move up and be a service manager or own and run their own shop,” Klausing said.
While UNOH has provided Lima with a nationwide reputation for automotive training, future mechanics are also being found on the high school level.
Roger Mathews, Apollo Career Center automotive technology instructor, teaches 38 juniors and seniors in the center’s automotive technology program. The students come from 11 area high schools to learn about the profession.
“There are auto technicians at retirement age and they are the ones who have the knowledge, but cars are changing with electronics that the younger generation will learn,” Mathews said.
Apollo Career Center offers the two year auto tech program and they receive an automotive certificate from the state. Students also are able to earn entry-level Automotive Service Excellence, an automotive industry credential. After earning these certifications students can either attend a four-year college or enter the working world.
Students learn theory of operations of the vehicle and electronics and learn about repairing vehicle wire corrosion and diagnosing where the problem is.
“The hands on skills is a big thing to help their eye and hand coordination to learn how much pressure they can put on a bolt before it breaks,” Mathews said.
Bruce Rellinger, Lima Senior High School automotive technology instructor, said the school has 15 students enrolled in its program and 75% of students are retained for the senior level program.
“The days of the backyard mechanic are dwindling and we need to focus on producing technicians that can handle complex systems and be able to use laptops and scan tools to aid with diagnostic troubleshooting,” Rellinger said.
The high school has an open shop where students make repairs for other students, staff and the general public.
“We really push for the real world vehicle that force the students to see actual customer’s concerns, find the cause and make the correction,” Rellinger said.
Reach Jennifer Peryam at 567-242-0362.