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How to Form a Local Network of Mentors

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When his father died, Lynn Austin was only 12 years old. Ready to help his mother any way he could, Austin started working in auto repair shops and took every automotive class he could.

 So, for Austin, automotive repair wasn’t just a way to make money—it was a way to help others. And that’s the mentality he tries to instill in hopeful technicians.

“You’re fixing your car for your mom when she goes on a long trip,” Austin says to high school classrooms, to students at career fairs, to apprentices that pass through his shop, to troubled youth in North Mankato, Minn. When the owner of Austin’s Auto Repair Center stands in front of those teenagers, he finds that the promise of a fulfilling career is what motivates them more than anything to undertake a career in automotive repair.

“You might not make a lot, but you can feel good at the end of the day you helped someone,” Austin says to students. “You can only spend so much money. It’s better to help.”

 Nominated for a Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Award because of his work with students, Austin has sought to form a local system that sets students up for apprenticeships. Here he details his tips for forming that local network and motivating students in your area to embrace careers as technicians.

Contact Counselors Directly.

There really isn’t an art to this one, so Austin will state it pretty plainly:

 “Walk in there and tell them you want to come in and speak to students.”

If you really want to alert area school counselors that you’re serious about speaking to classrooms, working on school curriculums and mentoring students at your shop, show up and ask to have a conversation.

“Tell them, ‘If you want to see shop in action, you have to be willing to have them come into the shop and look around,’” Austin says. Don’t just say you’re willing to help; instead openly offer your services and commit to being a resource for the shop.

The counselors will be your in to effectively reach students. From there, you will be able to speak at career days, gain access to parents, get students interested in technical college, and connect students with other area shops.

Form a Network of Mentors.

As president of the Greater Mankato Area NAPA AutoCare Centers Business Development Group, Austin works with six other shops to reach students in the classroom and set up apprenticeships.

By convening with that group, in addition to discussing business strategies, the shop owners can collaborate on the exact, consistent message to use with students.

This group can also brainstorm any other methods to shape students, including sitting on National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) advisory boards to dictate curriculum, researching various career days to attend, setting up area scholarships, and discovering different outlets for finding future technicians. Even something as simple as setting up mock interviews becomes much easier when you have a network of mentors to rely upon.

Step it up at Career Days.

It’s one thing to show up at a career day—it’s another to inspire a hoard of students outside your booth.

For Austin, that’s pretty common at the various career days he’s attended. Representing Mankato at one state event, roughly 1,300 10th graders came to his booth that day, which required a fervor from Austin that painted automotive repair as a promising career.

One of his more impressive showings was “Scan Tool Day,” when Austin demonstrated for career fair attendees how to use three different scan tools. An introduction to automotive repair for many of those students, Austin says technologically based presentations can go a long way in pushing a student toward the career.

Diversify Your Reach.

While high schools and technical colleges are obvious targets for apprentices, other promising options are sometimes overlooked. For instance, centers for troubled youths who have difficulty remaining in school shouldn’t be ignored, Austin says.

“I go in there twice per year and tell them they can do something with their lives,” he says. “Most of them know how to use their hands, too.”

Austin even offers his shop’s mentorship services to area Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

Above All Else: Show That You’re Passionate.

Students’ vision of the industry will mirror yours, Austin says. If you’re energetic and passionate about what automotive career can do for others, then they’ll buy into your message. And if you can inspire that attitude in the local network you’ve formed, you’ll spread your motivational message’s reach.


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