This spring I was working in Houston, TX. I met with Matt Miller of Service First Automotive Centers. We had a great chat and I learned a bit about the philosophy of Service First. Before finding the location, he was working, I visited two of the repair centers. It was so clean you could eat off the floor. The reception area was inviting and the personnel exceptional.

I was in awe at how much effort this company put into their employees. I visited their training center built like a store. It had all the same equipment as the functioning repair centers. It was a fantastic system.

In chatting with Matt, I asked him some questions I thought would trip him up. I asked about wages. I asked about a plan for advancement. I asked about older technicians like myself that may not be able to keep up with the pace of a 20-year-old. He had good answers for all the tough questions. This company cares about their employees and they intend keep and train the very best of the best.

I felt like his company was a good fit with my ideas. So, I shared my vision with Matt of making the workplace a greater part of a College education.

About two months ago, what I thought was a solid career ended. I called Brian Everill. He runs Master Muffler based in the Salt Lake City area. I mentioned that I was looking for training opportunities. He had one for me. The opportunity was to train technicians in preparation of the ASE tests. For the last 6 weeks I have been teaching classes to his employees. This has only emboldened my desire to move forward with this project.

Every day I hear about technicians that are buried in debt. They spend two to four years in College and graduate with $50K in debt to get hired at a dealership for $15 an hour to work the lube bay. This process just does not add up.

It is understood that most graduates are not ready to take on the full responsibilities of a Master Technician. However, it is just not responsible for us as a society to teach our youth that it is normal to take on such a burden. How long will it take for them to pay back $50K. Could they even sustain any kind of life at $15 per hour without the debt?

Lube Centers hire inexperienced people off the street every day. They teach them about safety. They teach them about lubricants and fluids. They teach them about torque. They give them the skills needed to do automotive maintenance. National chains teach these principals based on industry standards.

My point is, why not give these apprentices College credit for the skills that they learn and use on a daily basis? They are learning in the real world. If in fact they are learning according to the industry standard their education is on par with or arguably superior to what they could learn in the classroom.

Then comes the next step. Once the apprentice has passed all the skills and tests covered at the lube center, they can advance into a tire center. There they learn how to properly mount, balance and repair tires. They can use their skills in the lube center and move forward into more skilled work. Front end alignments, brake work and other under car operations.

During this whole process they are tested. They are asked to perform all of these tasks according to industry standards. When mistakes are made, they will be called out on them and asked to correct their processes.

The final step is moving into a full-service automotive shop. In this step the apprentice works alongside an assigned Master Technician. The Master Technician is expected to follow industry standards. The Master Technicians training compensation would be determined by the apprentice’s success. The apprentice will work with the Master Technician until they are able to demonstrate consistent quality work.

The entire program would take 42 months. Since there is no Summer break or long vacation times, the progress can happen quicker than in a conventional education system. The process would be monitored, measured and graded as a pass / no pass situation. If a no pass, then the apprentice just needs more time to master the skills. Once passed they move forward.

What about Math, History, Science, English, Humanities? How do we get a well-rounded individual without these subjects? These subjects will be required just like in traditional College. The difference is that they will be addressed at the student’s own pace. The subjects will be covered online. The best part is they will be all flavored toward automotive. Being automotive driven the apprentice / student will be more engaged and more likely to finish. The apprentice / student would not graduate until these subjects are mastered and passed.

Who is going to pay for this? The vision for this is that the employer would take on most of the burden and the apprentice / student would also contribute. In return, the apprentice / student would commit to remain with the employer for a set amount of time. The great thing for the apprentice / student is that they are making money while building a career. This program would serve all society regardless of circumstance. All one needs is a desire to be an automotive technician and a willingness to sacrifice personal time to gain an education.

– Michael Christopherson