Tinkering with the family car used to be good training for getting a job at a body shop or a garage. But the vehicles rolling off assembly lines these days are so high-tech, a whole new generations of workers is needed to repair them.
There's a new degree program at Fayetteville Tech designed to fill the growing demand for highly-trained mechanics.
Jon Stender is one of the first students to enroll in the new collision repair and refinishing technology two-year degree program.
Stender can't stop staring at and touching the 2015, ruby red Ford F150 pickup truck on display in his classroom.
"I was honestly more excited for today than I was for Christmas this year. I felt like a five-year-old kid," Stender says.
Before enrolling in this program, Stender had tried a more traditional college program, "But I'm not a very good school person. I love cars, though. I love working on cars. And I love doing things with my hands."
Wanted: Trained Professionals
Frederiek Toney is vice president of Ford Motor Company's customer service division. He says the company has a problem students like Stender can fix. Technicians and body shop technicians are in extremely short supply.
Toney says there are 87,000 technicians at Ford dealerships across the country. In the next four years they will need 50 percent more.
"And so it's important that we begin to build the bench and actually create a bench of talent with people with the right training," notes Toney.
One reason the need is so great is because of the rate of retirement of senior technicians. The average age of a worker in a U.S. body shop is around 50 years old.
Vehicles are becoming increasingly complex
Paul Gage is the director of the program at Fayetteville Technical Community College. He says the other problem is the lack of trained workers for these newer model vehicles.
"So when you start looking at a vehicle today, it really is – it's built like a space shuttle. It's built like an aircraft," asserts Gage.
Clark Plucinski is the executive director of the Collision Repair Education Foundation in Chicago. The foundation provides support to some 800 schools that teach the mechanics of car repair. He says that for a program like this one to succeed, they need cars to work on.
The Fayetteville program has that problem solved. Students get to work on late-model cars because of a partnership with corporate sponsors.
Jon Stender, the student we met earlier, says with new vehicles to work on and more than a dozen professional certificates in their pocket, by the time he and his classmates graduate, they should be ready for a good job.
"The men that we have in my class, they need jobs. They need it for their family. And they're looking for a career. This is what it provides," he says.
Tuition for the Fayetteville Tech program runs about $5,000. Fayetteville Tech says graduates in this program could start off at $40,000 a year and make twice that amount with experience.