Training Tomorrow’s Automotive Technicians in RI
The technology, electronics and components built into today’s cars, trucks and SUVs are more sophisticated than ever. Vehicles may be safer and more comfortable but they still need to be repaired and maintained, and sometimes when they break, it’s complicated.
Dealerships and auto service facilities have expressed concerns for a while now that it’s difficult to train and even find qualified auto technicians. Dealers are selling plenty of cars, but they also need service techs with the right skill set to fix these complex vehicles.
In the Rhode Island area, you don’t have to look far to find where the automotive technicians of tomorrow are being trained today. You’ve likely driven right by it many times traveling on Interstate 95. That place is New England Institute of Technology in Warwick.
The Automotive Technology Department at NEIT provides in-depth study in the application of the most current trends in the automotive field. There are automotive associate degree programs in: Automotive Technology, Advanced Automotive Technology, Automotive Technology with High Performance, plus related programs in Auto Body and Collision Repair Technology, and a Bachelor of Science degree program in Automotive Service Management. Students who graduate NEIT are well on their way to ASE or ICAR certification.
“This is so much more than turning a wrench. These are associate degree programs. Six quarters over 18 months. Students take both technical classes and academic classes to earn their degree,” says Virgilio Tavares, Assistant Professor and Assistant Department Chair in NEIT’s Transportation Technologies department. “We try to replicate real world automotive service and repair experiences in a classroom setting.”
At the center of NEIT’s Automotive Technology Department is an enormous 24,000 sq. ft. climate- controlled automotive “classroom” off Jefferson Boulevard. It boasts 42 service bays and students learn and perform the skills associated with engine repair and design, brakes, suspensions, transmission and ignition systems, climate control, electronics and much more.
The facility contains the latest in automotive repair technology including six Hunter wheel alignment machines. “When we made the move into this building approximately twelve years ago, none of the old equipment we had in the previous location came over. It’s all brand new state of the art equipment,” according to Tavares.
New England Tech collaborates with NATEF, the National Automotive Technician’s Education Association. “National Automotive Technician’s Education Foundation (NATEF), We follow the NATEF curriculum so students know all of the tasks required once they leave here,” according to Tavares. “But it’s not just the mechanical aspects. With the electronics and technology, use of a laptop, reading and math—that’s all very important. So the associate degree program develops a well-rounded student. You can’t repair a car today without understanding information and instructions.”
“To become an automotive student here at New England Tech, no prior automotive experience is necessary. That’s what this program is for. Believe it or not, most of our student population did not go to a technical high school.”
According to Tavares, the instructors are always learning too. “As educators, we have to complete many hours of professional development and training every year to stay current with the changes and new technologies. One of our goals is to keep our instructors ASE certified at the master level. As new technology comes out, we have to add it to our existing curriculum.”
NEIT has relationships with Fiat Chrysler, Ford and Subaru. Students have the opportunity to earn certifications through Ford and Subaru in addition to their associate degree. NEIT automotive instructors train Fiat Chrysler incumbent service technicians and incorporate those skills into the student curriculum so they benefit as well.
The NEIT Automotive Technology program also offers elective courses in alternative fuels–hybrid vehicles, light duty diesel, and compressed natural gas. And across the parking lot at the auto body and collision facility, they utilize two paint booths and two frame machines for students to sharpen their skills. The instructors are ICAR certified.
After completion of the associate degree program, some students may elect to continue in the Automotive Service Management Bachelor’s degree program. It’s designed for students who want to go into management, be a service consultant or advisor, or seek to own their own shop.
“The good news is there’s still interest from young people in learning about cars–how they work, how to repair them and how to make them go faster. And the students know they can make a very nice living in this field,” adds Tavares. “We can’t fill all the job openings that are posted by our career services department. We get calls on a daily basis so there are a lot of opportunities for our students once they graduate.”