Automotive Technology Program at Dallas College Prepares Graduates to Work in Rapidly Changing Industry

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15 mins read

If David McNabb could keep his phone’s “merge calls” button on at all times, he would. As Dallas College’s associate dean of advanced automotive technology, McNabb describes it like this: “I’ll have a prospective student on one line and an employer wanting to hire a student on the other. What I tell the potential student, after putting the employer on hold, is, ‘Hey, if you sign up for classes today, I’ve already got a job waiting for you.’”

Such is the track record of 100% percent placement for McNabb, and for Lead Ford Instructor Shane Baxter at Dallas College’s Brookhaven Campus, where both are based. Together they have been leading the auto tech program at Brookhaven for the past 20-plus years, lining students up with rapidly evolving careers, often before graduation. In that time, the automotive industry has experienced monumental change, from the extensive computerization of today’s modern cars (the equivalent of “software on wheels”) to the arrival of electric vehicles that are beginning to render internal combustion engines obsolete.

To the benefit of the hundreds of students who pass through Dallas College’s automotive program every year, the program’s instructors have kept ahead of industry trends, churning out highly skilled graduates who’ve become invaluable to car dealerships, service centers, body shops and parts manufacturing facilities across North Texas.

Fortunately for the regional economy, a commensurate number of employers rely on Dallas College’s steady pipeline of expert talent. One employer, Ford Motor Company, has reaped the benefits of hiring Dallas College graduates from its top-rated Automotive Student Service Education Training (ASSET) program at Brookhaven, which is industry recognized for its completion rate and for the placement success the program has enjoyed over the years.

Graduates who ascend from the shop floor

The embedded nature and the rich history of the automotive program that started with the Dallas College Community College District are the main reasons the automotive program consistently enjoys 100 percent placement year-after-year, McNabb says.

“Our alumni are in leadership and managerial positions at every major dealership here in the Metroplex,” McNabb said one recent morning looking out over a fleet of cars that includes a late-model Chevy Corvette that has been donated by a local General Motors dealership, “for training purposes only.”

Just beyond the ‘vette is a healthy sample of different makes and models from every car manufacturer the program has a relationship with (think Honda, Toyota, and Nissan, too). Each vehicle will have a turn in the gleaming bays of Brookhaven’s auto tech building, where students train with some of the most sophisticated equipment available. Beside the lifts, is a wide-open space that looks more like a clinical clean-room devoid of oil-soaked shop rags. Instructors stand next to banks of diagnostic sensors and probes befitting a high-tech aircraft hangar. The work is so precise and measured, these young men and women might as well be working on fighter planes.

After paying a very reasonable $79 per credit hour, the only thing the student is responsible for showing up with is a basic mechanics tool set. Graduates emerge with their tools sets in one hand, and a job in the other.

“After graduating, I worked at Bill Utter Ford as a Master Technician in all areas of automotive technology, from chassis to the drivetrain and I was a technician who did not shy away from anything,” says one-time Dallas College automotive student turned instructor Matthew Whitten. “I honestly went from installing an engine one morning to removing a dashboard. I appreciated the experience that the variety of work afforded me. Of course, I would be no one if it were not for the awesome technicians that I apprenticed under at Dallas College. The automotive tech program is what gave me my start.”

Despite the recent challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the automotive technology program at Dallas College – which spans Brookhaven, and the Cedar Valley and Eastfield Campuses – attracts full classes every year. The reason for that is fairly simple. Baxter credits good old-fashioned networking and gum-shoe recruiting done at high schools and out in the field on a daily basis – not over the phone or even through Zoom – but by visiting employers on their shop floors, and going to the same industry conferences they do to remain on the cusp of evolving technology.

“It’s the only way to keep a pulse on what’s going on out there, and what the latest opportunities are,” Baxter says. “Employers come to us, not only for the quality of our students, but for the relationships and trust we’ve built over the decades.”

 

An employer-employee pipeline that spans Dallas County

At the Eastfield Campus in Mesquite, where Peter Lamborghini runs the Honda Professional Automotive Career Training (PACT) program, industry ties run deep. And the fact that he bears the same last name as the renown Italian supercar manufacturer Ferruccio Lamborghini is not lost on him.

“I think I eventually got into automotive technology and working with cars in part because of my last name,” Lamborghini says. “But that was after studying oceanography in college and thinking about a career as a scientist. My interests in really working with cars professionally wasn’t kindled until later. I started working at an independent Lamborghini repair shop, and it quickly became apparent that I needed to go back to school to get more up-to-speed on the technical side of things. That led to a 30-year career in industry, with 25 of those years at Honda.”

After arriving at the then-Dallas County Community College District, Lamborghini applied his industry knowledge to join the two-year Honda PACT program at Eastfield, where students graduate with factory certification and a job at a Honda/Acura dealership, and can earn an Associate of Applied Science degree with just a few extra classes.

“What’s unique about the program, which starts with a new round of two-year cohorts every August, is that students are required to hold down an approved automotive job, usually at a dealership, while they are taking classes with us toward their associate’s degree,” Lamborghini said. “It’s also unique because we have dealerships who also send us students who are already working with them, but need extra training. These employers are investing in these students, and they have a high-completion rate because they already have the responsibilities of a job and are on upward trajectory in their careers.”

In addition to the Honda PACT program, Eastfield and the Cedar Valley campus are also home to a Toyota partnership, the Toyota Technician-Training and Education Network or T-TEN program, which is structured in much the same way. Cedar Valley in Lancaster also has a variety of other offerings, including small engine repair for mechanics interested in working with marine motors in boats, as well as overhauling and maintaining small engines used on lawn mowers, garden tractors, and other small equipment.

A career that pays life-long dividends

Workforce Solutions of Greater Dallas projects 5,150 job openings for auto mechanics this year, while the U.S. Department of Labor projects automotive service technicians jobs to grow 19% in Texas over the next three years. Auto tech continues to be in-demand as an occupation that provides portable skills that cannot be outsourced overseas. There’s job flexibility, too. More than 16% of service technicians are self-employed.

Depending on the track chosen, auto tech also offers a wide variety of opportunities for people who enjoy running diagnostics and testing different parts to identify mechanical problems. Other interests involve completing preventative maintenance, learning state laws regarding emissions, safety, and other standards, as well as navigating supply chain issues to maintain a steady supply of parts to keep inventory full on behalf of dealerships.

“Through our Industry Advisory Boards, our Automotive Technology programs have a pulse on emerging technologies and workforce needs. Our faculty continually adapt curriculum and upgrade equipment for hands-on training to produce qualified automotive technicians for the vehicles of today and the future,” says Dr. Veronique Tran, vice provost of the School of Manufacturing & Industrial Technology, which is home to Dallas College’s automotive program.

Whether it’s learning to be an auto body technician or as an auto shop manager, each track at Dallas College offers a mix of operational theory, practical skills, and accepted shop procedures reinforced by intensive practice during cooperative work experience periods at a number of sponsoring dealerships – including those participating in the Ford ASSET program.

The 22-month ASSET program is a banner apprenticeship program that prepares individuals to work as an automotive service technician after completing a curriculum designed by the Ford Motor Company, its dealers and Dallas College Brookhaven faculty. Students who are accepted into the program attend intensive 16-week sessions of classroom lectures and exercises at the Brookhaven campus.

James Brown, an Air Force veteran who hit a rough patch and had to work his way out of homelessness, is one such student. Brown was thrilled to receive a full scholarship to the ASSET Program, and the awarding of his scholarship was televised during the halftime show of the Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day Football game. With additional help provided by the Salvation Army, Dallas College is welcoming Brown to the Fall 2022 Ford ASSET Class.

“It’s a win-win,” Baxter says. “Brown now gets his Ford ASSET education paid for, Brookhaven’s Ford ASSET program gets a great new student, and a Ford dealership gets a great employee. The Dallas Cowboys, the NFL, and the Salvation Army made this special event happen and we were incredibly proud to see James honored by the franchise on live national television.”

James was overcome with emotion upon receiving news of his acceptance. “The ASSET program is going to be a life-changer for me,” he said. “All I needed was just a chance.”

Two current students, Luke Anders and Brier Miller, have just gotten a big chance, courtesy of the ASSET program, which awarded each of them a $5,000 scholarship at a recent event that included the awarding of two brand new tool chests and wrenches to the entire ASSET class for a combined value of more than $20,000 in scholarships and free tools.

“This scholarship is going to be a huge help for me,” Anders said upon receiving the check from Ford. “I moved to Dallas from two and half hours away, specifically for this program, and the cost of living in Dallas is more than I thought. This has taken a huge financial burden off me, and having the tools to do my job training also really helps.”

Turns out there’s a good chance, if you are passionate about cars and the technology that drives them, that if you call the auto tech program at Dallas College, there might be a job waiting for you on the other end of the line, whether it’s with Ford, Honda, General Motors, or even Maserati. Teachers like Lamborghini, McNabb, Baxter and Whitten know that in end, people matter more than the car chassis, and more than the engine that moves it. It’s students like James that the automotive program at Dallas College, through years of steady focus, has been built to serve.

For more information on Dallas College auto tech programs, and to enroll in a career, visit: https://www.dallascollege.edu/cd/credit/automotive-tech

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