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Choosing a career path can be a daunting decision for anyone. Luckily for those with an interest in cars, South Puget Sound Community College’s (SPSCC) Automotive Technology (Auto Tech) Program is changing the way students think about traditional learning models and helps many discover a new passion.

Brian Eriksen, SPSCC teacher, headshot
Brian Eriksen instructs students from all walks of life to go on and become highly skilled automotive technicians. Photo courtesy: South Puget Sound Community College

Being a two-year program with Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) accreditation, this program’s main goal is to prepare students for the workforce so that they can easily jump into an entry level position upon graduation. “Our courses cover anything you can imagine that needs to be functional or serviced in a vehicle,” explains Brian Eriksen, SPSCC automotive technology professor.

Automotive Technology Program Upgrades

As a program that’s been at the college for decades, one individual who’s been witness to its tremendous growth is Program Manager Larry Norris, who will be retiring in the Fall of 2022 after 21 years of service. Classes once were held in separate buildings scattered around campus making it difficult to have one centralized learning environment. Today, the Bruno and Evelyne Betti Automotive & Welding Center provides one centralized hub with three separate classrooms built into the hands-on lab space. Within this revolutionary new space students can explore the latest industry-standard equipment, alignment racks, and lifts made possible with the support of Bruno and Evelyne Betti Foundation. Here, careful attention has been made to implement hybrid and electric vehicles along with updating coursework to include high voltage safety and servicing.

While the new space has been a huge benefit to both instructors and students, enrollment has fluctuated since COVID. “During the pandemic when businesses shut down,” states Brian, “the automotive industry couldn’t. This is a very stable career in almost any circumstance. We’re excited to get back to full capacity and help students begin their journey to a new career.” One of the major bonuses of SPSCC’s Auto Tech Program is the fact that students can enroll at the start of any quarter throughout the year.

Auto Tech Program is for Everyone

classroom with empty tables and chairs at SPSCC
Students in the SPSCC Automotive Technology Program spend time learning from instructors in classrooms before using their new skills immediately afterward on the on-site training vehicles. Photo courtesy: South Puget Sound Community College

Larry and Brian have seen a wide variety of students complete the program from all walks of life. They’ve worked with many who have always dreamt of working in the automotive field to students enrolling to learn how to fix their own vehicles. “While we see many students who initially sign up to learn how to work on their own cars,” explains Brian, “we usually end up seeing them complete the two years of schooling and graduate.”

Brian explains how Larry and he have spent many hours talking to small shop owners in Thurston County about their very serious automotive technician shortage. “These workers are constantly stressing how desperate the need for technicians is across the U.S. and how there’s currently around 70,000 jobs available,” emphasizes Brian. A lot of the openings that are currently available are due to the early 2,000’s large focus on expanding technology. While the current workers in the industry are aging out and retiring the need for younger workforce to fill those gaps has increased. “Last quarter, we had recruiters from Ford and Tesla coming into classrooms explaining their need for technicians and encouraging students to complete the program. All our students need are desire and intention, and the rest they can pick up while they’re here.”

The Auto Program has turned out hundreds of graduates who have gone on to lead extremely successful lives, and opportunities are there for those who may worry about the cost of enrollment and other program needs. “There are tons of scholarship opportunities available for those of all ages, grades, and social situations,” explains Larry. “Both the program instructors and financial aid workers at SPSCC are more than happy to discuss these opportunities.”

Automotive Technology Tuition Assistance

SPSCC's Automotive Technology Program empty garage
SPSCC’s Automotive Technology Program continues their training to maintain their ASE certification. Photo courtesy: South Puget Sound Community College

“One of the biggest misconceptions is that students need to show up with a full toolbox or they can’t take our classes,” says Brian. “There’s plenty of time and ways to build their toolbox and first year students are able to utilize the fully stocked tool room for the basics.” As classes progress and more advanced tools are needed, the program’s vendors offer huge discounts including up to 50% off top brands such as Matco, Cornwell, and Snap-on Tools.

Additionally, both the SPSCC Foundation and Bruno and Evelyne Betti Foundation have grants available, plus there’s access to tools thanks to the annual Mrs. Betti Tool Day event. The SPSCC Foundation further supports the program through their Auto Donation Program. This program provides training aid cars to educate students, and after the life of vehicle expires, sells them on auction to continue funding scholarships.

Auto Tech Jobs for Graduates

Whether a student arrives hoping to grow their hobby or are balancing family life and a current career, Larry has worked alongside and built relationships with countless students. “Maintaining our ASE accreditation means regular inspections and reaching out to graduates,” states Larry. “I’ve heard from numerous students who have gone on to become high level technicians in shops or own their own business.” One of those graduates is Max Smith, owner of Automotive Artistry in Lacey. Upon graduation, Max worked in the shop before purchasing it. Currently, Max operates his shop alongside his four employees, three of which are former SPSCC Auto Tech students.

While the SPSCC Auto Tech Program continues to evolve alongside the technological world, the instructors stay committed to revamping their courses, communicating available funds, welcoming a diverse student body, and helping anyone who’s interested in the program become 100% employable. “Any barrier you think there might be can most likely be taken out,” expresses Brian. “As long as you have desire, we’re here for you.”

To learn more and begin your journey to a new and exciting career, visit the SPSCC Automotive Technology Program webpage.

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