As part of a weekly series, Ratchet+Wrench will take a look at 2018’s World Class Technician recipients, including a brief bio of their career, and their thoughts on the industry. Our first feature is on Jonathan Couch from Porter, Texas.
There are an estimated 879,000 technicians in the United States, with more than 300,000 of them holding ASE certification. Nearly 2,000 technicians have earned the status of “World Class Technician” since its inception over 30 years ago.
To earn World Class status, a technician must achieve certification in 22 specialty areas during the 2017 certification test administered by ASE.
What drew you to the automotive industry, and what made you passionate about it?
I grew up working on cars at home. My dad has owned street rods for the majority of my life and still has one. He brought me up to be self dependent and to do things myself.
My grandpas were both career soldiers in the U.S. Army and were both very skilled tradesmen. I grew up around people who did everything for themselves. As a teenager I was given a ‘72 Chevrolet C10 truck that needed an engine and other restoration work. If I hadn't done the work myself I wouldn't have had a car.
The reason I became an engine machinist is because I got some bad machine work on the first engine I built and it came to rest in the worst way. Out of the entire engine I was able to save 6 connecting rods. Starting over fresh I vowed never to let anyone do my engine machine work again.
Where do you currently work?
I currently work at Klein Forest High School, and I own Couch's Automotive Racing Services.
Can you give a brief bio of your career journey, including how and why you earned your World Class certification with ASE?
I started reading, taking classes at the local college, learning from other machinists, worked in a few machine shops, and eventually put together my own machine shop. I then started doing engine machine work for myself and friends but worked as a flag tech at the same time. I would take my heavy line projects home and charge the shop for the machine work as a third party while being capable of turning around a head gasket replacement in 24 hrs., an engine rebuild in a week, etc.
I served in the USMC then when I got out I decided to finish college. I was then offered a job by the college because they needed someone to teach their engines classes and told me if I were to get a degree I'd have a job. I did exactly that and I found a real love for teaching. I still get to work on all my hobby projects at home but at the same time I get to grow the next generation of technicians, engine machinists, collision repair techs, welders, etc.
During my years of working and teaching I have earned 39 ASE certifications and also hold certifications from AERA. I continue to focus on improving my skill sets and enhancing my own education and the education of my students.
What are your thoughts on the technician shortage currently facing the industry?
Training in the industry today as a whole dismisses the idea of training technicians in severe repairs. Many of the training institutions like trade schools and colleges often teach a very light curriculum that pushes maintenance and light repair. I know that this is the cash cow of dealerships but that level of training doesn't set a technician up for success in the industry.
Years ago curriculum would dive deep into a topic area and maintenance and light repair would be learned as a byproduct of learning that particular topic. Many of the excuses I hear for dismissing this are: "no one does these kinds of repairs anymore", "the cars we're training them to work on aren't old enough to need these kinds of repairs", and so on. What I wonder is who are we to decide what a student, technician, or tradesmen of any kind is going to see in their lifetime?
What I find to be true is that old things become new again, perhaps re-purposed into something else or to perform a different task, but nothing is ever really gone for good. My question to training institutions is: Instead of only teaching what you want, why don't you teach what you can?