We Need an Education Overhaul
Some people will tell you that it’s OK to bang your head against the wall, if for no other reason than it generally feels so good when you stop.
I’m not one of those people.
Futility is never the goal, just as confrontation for confrontation’s sake is rarely productive. Admittedly, there are times when there appears to be nothing else left, no alternative other than to put your guard up and lean forward as you anticipate the battle to come. That’s kind of where I am right now as I’m preparing myself to lean in for whatever comes next.
You see, I just finished processing the emotional and intellectual fallout of two similar and yet strangely different interactions with our educational establishment. One was with a high school student enrolled in a local Regional Occupational Program (ROP), the other with a graduate of one of our industry’s best known private educational institutions. And frankly, I’m ready for a fight. Why?
Because neither was satisfying, neither was gratifying, neither was anywhere near what it could have or should have been. And, both left me struggling with more questions than solutions.
I should probably begin with a disclaimer of sorts. Struggling with the question of how we attract young people to our industry and then what to do with them if they ever show up is nothing new to me. I’ve been battling with those same issues for decades. A sense of certainty that the educational community has to do more than just drop these kids off at our door as if we were running a daycare center is nothing new to me either.
For years, I’ve felt that every shop should have access to, if not be provided with, a step-by-step, on-the-job program of study designed to supplement and support whatever general or specific knowledge an entry level new-hire brings to the shop with them when they arrive.
The problem is deciding on what must be included in such a program. The problem is consensus.
The easy answer: That should be determined by what we agree an individual should be able to accomplish successfully upon the completion of each module. But, the easy answer is never easy. There are shop owners who couldn’t agree on the time if they were wearing the same watch! In fact, the one thing you can be relatively sure of when industry leaders meet to address issues like these—even industry leaders who are pure of heart—is that an argument is more likely than an agreement.
So, we found ourselves with care and custody of a high school senior who was dropped off at our door with little more than an interest in our profession. When I approached his instructor with questions about expectations and curriculum, I got little more than an admonition to “just give him a taste of what’s going on.” That, and a list of all the things he couldn’t or shouldn’t be doing since the school district was still responsible for his safety and well being.
We did the best we could with this young man. The best we could in a busy production environment. But, the experience for both of us was certainly less than it could have been.
The most fascinating element of this particular experience was the evaluation form I was asked to fill out at the end of the program, an evaluation form that if turned upside down could easily have served as a roadmap for reasonable expectations, an outline of what training needed to occur in order to reach the desired outcome for each area of study.
The second experience was even more disheartening, perhaps because there was a truckload of debt involved. You see, the program this young man was involved with resulted in a federal grant that is virtually impossible to forgive, and one he will be paying off damn near forever. That would be acceptable if he had been provided the skill sets necessary to succeed in our industry—and by that I don’t mean the fundamentals of internal combustion engines, basic electron theory or ABS brakes.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not discounting the importance of a strong foundation. Fundamentals are critical to success in any undertaking, especially ours. But so are the less tangible elements of a successful career, like how to set up your tools so you can actually find the one you’re looking for, which tools to buy and when it is apparent you actually need to purchase them. Plus, how to protect that investment. Just as important is how to approach a service operation or repair, how to communicate with a service advisor or a client. The list goes on and on.
These are all as essential as basic engine theory. Perhaps even more so. And yet I’m willing to bet you would never know it if you were confronted with someone just graduating from any one of a host of vocational schools across the country.
It isn’t because no one has tried. There are dedicated, devoted shop owners across the U.S. (and probably around the world) who have devoted thousands of hours and endured more frustration and stress than any human being should be exposed to, trying to accomplish any or all of the above. But while their efforts are worthy of recognition and our acknowledgement, they are still individual efforts and the industry needs more.
We need to start that dialogue now. We need to establish a realistic set of expectations for what these kids should know when they come out of school and what they should be able to accomplish. We must develop the educational tools required to supplement their basic knowledge and ensure they reach their fullest potential as quickly as possible while they are in our care and custody.
What happens if we don’t? What happens if all we do is continue to bang our heads against the wall? Well, for one thing, we’ll never know just how good it might feel if we ever get to stop.
Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi Valley, Calif. He is an industry educator, author, seminar facilitator, and blogger at mitchschneidersworld.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.