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College Offers Program In Fixing High-Tech Cars


Tinkering with the family car used to be good training for getting a job at a body shop or a garage. But the vehicles rolling off assembly lines these days are so high-tech, a whole new generations of workers is needed to repair them. North Carolina Public Radio's Leoneda Inge reports on a new degree program in Fayetteville designed to fill the growing demand for highly-trained mechanics.

LEONEDA INGE, BYLINE: Jon Stender can't stop staring at and touching the 2015, ruby red, Ford F150 pickup truck on display in his working classroom.

JON STENDER: I was honestly more excited for today than I was for Christmas this year. I felt like a five-year-old kid.

INGE: Nineteen-year-old Stender is one of the first students to enroll in the new collision repair and refinishing technology two-year degree program. His classroom is full of buff and shine, just like that Ford truck.

STENDER: Well, before I started this program, I tried college. But I'm not a very good school person. I love cars, though. I love working on cars. And I love doing things with my hands.

INGE: Frederiek Toney with Ford Motor Company likes what he hears and what he sees at the collision repair center. The global vice president of Ford customer service says they've got a problem students like Stender can fix.

FREDERIEK TONEY: Because we recognize that technicians and body shop technicians are in extremely short supply.

INGE: Toney says there are 87,000 technicians at Ford dealerships across the country. In the next four years, he says, they will need 50 percent more.

TONEY: And so it's important that we begin to build the bench and actually create a bench of talent with people with the right training.

INGE: One reason the need is so great is because of the rate of retirement of senior technicians. The average age of a worker in a U.S. body shop is around 50 years old. Paul Gage is the director of the program at Fayetteville Technical Community College. He says the other problem is the lack of trained workers for these newer model vehicles.

PAUL GAGE: So when you start looking at a vehicle today, it really is - it's built like a space shuttle. It's built like an aircraft.

CLARK PLUCINSKI: The all-aluminum F150 Ford. How do you fix an all-aluminum body that gets run into? You throw it all away and start over? That's not a good model.

INGE: That's Clark Plucinski, executive director of the Collision Repair Education Foundation in Chicago. He says the foundation provides support to some 800 schools that teach the mechanics of car repair. But, Plucinski says, there's a bigger problem - the lack of hands-on learning.

PLUCINSKI: The number one issue was we don't have cars to fix that are late model. And you think to yourself, well how would a school that gets a $2,500 average budget - how could they possibly fulfill the needs to have late model cars?

INGE: Tuition for the Fayetteville Tech program runs about $5,000. They get to work on late-model cars here because of a partnership with corporate sponsors. Jon Stender says with new vehicles to work on and more than a dozen professional certificates in their pocket, by the time he and his classmates graduate, they should be ready for a good job.

STENDER: The boys that I have - the men that we have in my class, they need jobs. They need it for their family. And they're looking for a career. This is what it provides.

INGE: Fayetteville Tech says graduates in this program could start off at $40,000 a year and make twice that amount with experience. For NPR News, I'm Leoneda Inge. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.