By Andrew Markel
BRAKE & FRONT END Magazine
As the editor of BRAKE & FRONT END magazine, I regularly encounter the “glass is half empty” side of the industry. My email and voicemail are sometimes filled with bad news, doom and gloom. It was starting to rub off on my daily attitude last month. But, I found the best cure.
I committed back in January, to head down to the SkillsUSA Ohio Championships in Columbus, OH. The event is like Olympics for trade school students. Founded in 1965, SkillsUSA is the national organization for students in trades. The championships at the local, state and national levels recognize the achievements of career and technical education students and encourages them to strive for excellence and pride in their chosen occupations. Most of the officials at the championships are volunteers.
The two-hour drive from the BRAKE & FRONT END offices in Akron to Columbus was a straight shot down I-71, leaving me with nothing but my thoughts and the road. Around Mansfield, I turned on the radio in hopes of hearing the latest scores and maybe a little news. If an alien from another planet was listening, they might think that civilization was about to grind to a sudden halt. After the news at the top of the hour, I turned it off.
When I arrived at the Ohio Expo Center, I was amazed at the size and energy of the event. Students were hanging drywall, welding and repairing vehicles. It was a scene that I had not seen for a long time, people enjoying their work.
The Automotive Service Technology area was at the back of the hall. The area was filled with contestants demonstrating their ability to perform jobs and skills based on the task list outlined by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) and the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF). The workstations ranged from building an electrical circuit to measuring endplay of an input shaft.
Contestants are judged on technical competency, accuracy, quality and ability to follow directions. There were 13 skill stations and a written test. Also, they even put the students through a mock interview.
Students also presented class projects and papers. They tackled tough topics like ethanol-powered vehicles, automotive electronics and oil filter technology as it relates to fuel economy. Every presentation gave you a sense of pride about the current level of student that want to become a part of our industry.
As I talked to the students, I slowly felt better about the vehicle repair industry. They were positive and optimistic. Just about every student wants to own a shop. They did not see barriers and conspiracies, they saw challenges and things they could change.
They were not blind to the difficulties and threats to our industry, it was just their fresh perspective was not jaded by failure or old wounds. Best of all, they have dreams and big plans for our industry.
On the two-hour ride home, I was recharged and optimistic about the future. They reminded me why I got involved in this industry in the first place and why I am still here.
This is not sugar coating or looking through rose-colored glasses at our current situation, I still read the Web forums and emails. These students taught me that it is about envisioning our dreams, acknowledging the obstacles and defeating them. The students have this power, and chances are you still have it.
If you have been feeling down about our industry, get involved with your local automotive trade schools and SkillsUSA (www.skillsusa.org). Being around the future will help brighten yours.