General

Collin College’s Automotive Tech Program Deserves Top Ranks

Students work on cars in the automotive bay of the Collin College Technical Campus in Allen. (Sara Carpenter/Collin College)

Collin College’s Automotive Technology program is entering its third year and has received the highest level of accreditation recognized by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.

In the post-pandemic world, the auto industry is struggling to find workers, area officials said. Representatives from the Universal Technical Institute predict that a wave of senior mechanics retiring will create 100,000 auto technician jobs over the next decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted a 4% decline in employment in the field through 2029, according to a 2022 survey conducted by Software as a Service Platform for the Insurance Industry CCC Intelligent Solutions Inc.

But with its program and its accreditation, Collin College is training a new generation of technicians to serve Collin County and cities like McKinney.

“Our classes are in high demand,” said Elias Alba, Collin College’s interim director of automotive and collision technology. “Our classes filled up so quickly that I had to open a new section.”

The Automotive Technology program offers full education and certificate programs that prepare students for certification in the Maintenance and Light Repair, Automotive Service Technician, or Master Automobile Service Technology designations.

Bill King, provost of the Technical Campus, said accreditation was an important step in the development of the Automotive Technology program.

“This accreditation is an indication of how seriously we take industry standard training,” King said in a statement.

Prior to the pandemic, it was a tough industry to fill positions, said Brent Franks, president at the North Texas Automobile Dealers, which serves multiple counties, including Collin. It’s a challenge that has remained constant, as workers in this industry are “essential,” he said.

“Our communities are so scattered,” Franks said. “We need qualified technicians to repair our vehicles so we can get our kids to school and work.”

A growing problem

Collin College has several industry partners for its automotive engineering program. To earn certifications, students must complete at least one internship in an automotive-related job, Elias said. Partners often contact the college to ask if students are available for assistance, he said.

“The demand for technicians is very high,” says Alba. “We have people retiring or leaving or leaving the workforce, so you could say our partners are a little desperate and need a lot of technicians.”

Data from the Texas Workforce Commission shows that auto technician job postings were one of the top lists in Collin County, with a total of 268 job openings between January and July. Only two other job categories had more than that, with retail totaling 641 vacancies and ‘other services’ with 1,187 vacancies.

The top two cities in the county posting automotive tech job opportunities were McKinney and Plano. Data from the Texas Workforce Commission shows that an entry-level position in the area can earn a salary of $28,626, with an average wage of $50,224.

Shortages of technicians ultimately cost drivers more time, data shows. According to the CCC study, the time between the start and the completion of the repair increased by 2.1 days between 2019 and 2021. It also takes longer to make an appointment to bring a vehicle in for repair, with 96% of stores in the 2021 survey reporting being two weeks behind schedule.

“A shortage of work would mean that people can’t get their cars, their fire engines and their emergency services repaired,” Franks said.

A changing industry

The Body Shop Collision Center in McKinney is a family owned and operated auto repair center that has been around since 1976. Owner John Rattan and his daughter Jessica Rattan, the store’s director of marketing and communications, are focused on maintaining their unique corporate culture and values, Jessica Rattan said. That has not exempted them from staffing problems.

“I’m kind of looking for the next generation of workforce, because it’s kind of a dying industry, so we have to get creative,” said Jessica Rattan.

Finding skilled and well-trained workers is the goal, but finding workers seems to be a recurring problem, Jessica Rattan said. While some employees have been with The Body Shop Collision Center for more than 25 years, they are still in need of new talent. Jessica Rattan said Collin College has been instrumental in that.

Blake Sellers, co-owner of Honest-1 Auto Care in McKinney, has seen similar problems in the industry. He said he and his other co-owner “have managed to work” [their] through it”, but it remains a “standing problem” to find reliable and experienced automotive technicians. Among labor shortages nationwide, Sellers suggests the sector may not seem desirable to younger people entering the workforce.

“There just aren’t that many people…starting a more technical trading career than there used to be,” he said.

Cars have become more electric than they were 20 years ago, says Sean Boyll, a professor of automotive technology at the university. This has led to one of the main challenges in finding skilled workers in this field, according to the CCC study. The development of electric vehicles has added a new element to vehicle repair, but even fuel-consuming cars now have electrical components to consider.

“All the mechanical parts have reached a point where maintenance is pretty minimal,” Boyll said.

The challenge associated with electric vehicles not only adds an extra layer of training, but it can also take more time from technicians performing scans and calibrations, researching repair methods and even charging electric vehicles, according to the CCC study.

Fueling a service

The accreditation has created even more student interest in the program, Alba said.

During the spring semester, the Automotive Technology Program at Collin College counted about 123 new and ongoing students enrolled in the program, according to college data.

At the start of the new fall semester, the program had 189 new and continuing students, including students from the general population and about 25 two-credit high school students, Boyll said.

Since the program launched in 2020, enrollment has more than doubled, data shows.

Automotive technology jobs can’t be outsourced, Alba said, so students entering the program know they have jobs available at home. Plus, a career in the field can pay off well, he said.

Career paths in automotive technology also vary, Boyll said.

“You can go in any direction; you don’t have to turn a wrench,” Boyll said, adding that people can go into customer service with their certifications, auto engineering or working with automakers and the various features they can offer.

“The sky is the limit for someone coming into this industry,” Alba said.