The shortage in qualified technicians in the automotive and diesel vehicle industry is being addressed by the TechForce Foundation.
An event recently held at CREATE in the Arizona Science Center showcased projects created by Phoenix’s Estrella Middle School students who participated in a 12-week after-school program called “CREATE U/TechForce Foundation Transportation Challenge.”
The concept for the Challenge was created by Greg Settle, TechForce director of national initiatives, and Tim Dwyer, education specialist at ConsuLab Educatech Inc.
Under Dwyer’s direction, industry volunteers from the ASE Training Manager’s Council (ATMC) created specific “challenge scenarios” that the students were able to choose from and execute. The goal was to help students solve real-world technical challenges that have been faced in the transportation industry. The Challenge concluded with students demonstrating their projects to their parents and a number of special guests from the community and the transportation industry.
* One team was challenged with a crash test in which the team was tasked with engineering a two-axle vehicle that would protect an egg in the event of a frontal impact.
* One team was challenged with engineering a working turbocharger for the compression of intake air into an internal combustion engine.
* One team was challenged with building a planetary gear set utilizing a fixed speed electric motor that would move a fixed weight a certain distance.
“The Transportation Challenge is an initiative directly related to our FutureTech Success Campaign,” said Jennifer Maher, CEO/executive director of TechForce and speaker at the event. “It speaks to our overarching purpose of connecting with and encouraging students to consider a transportation career by providing them with the tools and experiences to recognize and foster their ‘tactile intelligence.’
“If we’re going to solve the qualified technician shortage problem, we need to work at the grassroots level offering tangible and relevant experiences to adolescents as they start to think about their careers,” said Maher. “The Transportation Challenge had students working in teams learning real-life tasks — from lessons on structural engineering and material compatibility to the chemistry of atmospheric air and how it affects an engine — that usually are not offered in a traditional classroom.”
Settle said, “This program focused on students being able to use their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills to work on applicable, vehicle-related interests. This early experience may prove to be the first step for students to pursue one of many rewarding transportation careers. I don’t know if every one of these students will pursue a transportation career, but I do know that after this experience they are a step closer if they choose to be.”
Dwyer said, “We feel we have to go back into the middle school and put self-discovery at the level where they’ll hopefully spark an interest in a career in the transportation industry and help solve some of the [tech shortage] problems we’re having right now.”
Leading up to the event, the three student teams utilized their STEM skills by spending two-hours each week at CREATE at the Arizona Science Center where they had access to CNC machines, laser cutters, 3D printers and an entire woodworking shop to bring their transportation prototype to life. Industry experts served as coaches to provide real-world insight and training to the students.
To meet their challenges, Dwyer said the young people turned from being a group of individuals into team members who relied on one another.
If they do pursue a transportation career, another guest attendee said there should be a place for them. “There’s going to be a skills gap problem for 10 years,” said Larry Cox, vice president of culture at Sunstate Equipment Co. He attributes this gap to all of the baby boomers who are retiring. “We are constantly looking for technicians and good employees.”
According to Cox, whose company has over 1,600 employees, 400 of whom are technicians working in 10 southwestern states, “You can come in at a reasonable, livable wage and as you continue to grow and your skills improve, your compensation will grow quite quickly.” To emphasize the point, he said, “The average pay [for Sunstate’s 400 technicians] is over $70,000.”
Dwyer said that the money is there for good employees who are technologically savvy but emphasized earning potential is also tied to how progressive their company is. And he cautioned that young people need to come in with the right expectations. “When salary is mentioned, some only hear that… and I have found if you work for the money, you will not be satisfied. If you learn the skills, the money will come!”
The Transportation Challenge program was underwritten by General Motors, Nissan North America, Advance Auto Parts, Snap-on and Universal Technical Institute. It will continue at CREATE at the Arizona Science Center in 2018 with new teams and new projects to be announced at a later date.
For more information, visit www.techforcefoundation.org.