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Technical Center becomes a starting point for success

The technical industry needs skilled individuals to navigate through a company’s complex ordering system

Heidi Johnson

A view of the Tool Room in the middle of the Dennis Technical Education Center shows the labyrinth student workers navigate.

Demi Nicole Manglona, Borah High School

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It’s hard to believe that some college students and fresh graduates are already making hundreds of thousands of dollars annually with relatively few years of experience. Many of these students study, or have studied, automotive trade skills, including diesel and collision. Picking up a skill that can also pay away student loans is something many high school students wish for, but at the Dennis Technical Center, each student is already on their way to this success.

In the middle of the Center lies a spacious room full of automotive supplies, appropriately named the Tool Room. This room consists of appliances valued at a few cents to thousands of dollars, and everything is accessible to any student who needs it, though it mainly benefits the automotive, collision and diesel classes.

Having similar attributes to a typical school library with its check-out and tracking systems, Tool Room Monitor Steve Smith nicknamed the area “The Library of Tools.”

Smith has been the Tech Center’s Tool Room Monitor for four years, and has already watched the progression of his students as they prepare for a successful future. Having three years in a technical college, plus the years of technical classes he took in high school himself, Smith is able to teach students the different branches of automotive skills while relating back to his own experiences.

In his previous work, Smith spent years in automotive repairs, only to realize that his passion is working in the parts department. Smith claims his career change was a huge setback in his life, and doesn’t want his students to experience the same obstacles.

“We [teachers] try and give [the students] such a broad view for what’s in this building,” Smith said. “We want to give them a preview of a lot of different departments.”

And it’s true–the learners are exposed to various departments of mechanical engineering–but they also learn “soft skills,” a concept Smith wanted to emphasize when highlighting the success of his students.

“No matter what technical skill you have, if you don’t have the soft skills, you’re never going to make it past the interviews,” Smith said.

According to Smith, “soft skills” include anything in the ranks of courtesy and respect when talking to those in authority, mainly employers in charge of their careers. Actual managers from stable corporations visit the Center to perform mock interviews with the students to help them practice “soft skills” and learn what interviewers look for in an employee.

“We just try to get them on the right path to be a valuable employee for someone down the road,” Smith said.

Additionally, every student who attends the Tech Center is signed up as a member of SkillsUSA, and according to Smith, approximately 75 percent of students choose to compete on a regional level for a place in the nationals. This organization promotes “citizenship, leadership, employability, technical and professional skills training,” according to the official website. Students are able to compete, and winners earn scholarships, funding for their schools, tool kits, and so on.

The success stories of the Dennis Technical Center students are plastered on the walls, mainly through posters. Caterpillar Inc., a construction machinery company more commonly known as CAT, is one of the many establishments that pictures graduates of the Tech Center and displays them on promotional posters.

According to diesel instructor Ron Martinez, the pictured students are already making five figures or more annually, even though many of them graduated only from high school up to four years ago.
In just the diesel department, Martinez said only one year into college, he has students who are pulling up to $40,000 per year, as well as well-established students pulling around $120,000 per year. There are shop floor workers making around $100,000 per year. Some of his former students even work at Cummins Rocky Mountain and Micron, large technical industries who pay their employers anywhere from $80,000 to $120,000 per year.

Both Smith and Martinez stressed that not all of these success stories come from turning wrenches.
“Parts counter people are needed,” Martinez said.

The technical industry needs skilled individuals to navigate through a company’s complex ordering system, the instructors emphasized.

Those who simply sit at a desk filing invoices and making orders for the tradesmen receive around $100,000 per year on average. Smith said he has about six instructor-assigned students coming in and out of the Tool Room learning about the invoice system and inventory organization.

“Let’s face it, all of these students are probably not going to be automotive technicians, but there’s so many venues you can go into if you know basic automotive skills,” Smith said.

Although a portion of the students reach the success they strived for in high school, an even larger portion of those students returned to their roots to teach.

“Our teachers are different than your normal math, science, history [teachers]. I’m not devaluing them at all, but all of our teacher have about 30-40 years in the industry,” Smith said.

Smith uses his daughter, Chelsie Wilson, as an example for this. Wilson graduated from a Technical School herself, earning a copious amount of scholarships and a full ride to the College of Southern Idaho along the way. Wilson went into the automotive insurance collision industry and worked mainly with invoices and inventory, and was recruited by State Farm to work in insurance. During her 7-year State Farm career, she made six figures and ran the national SkillsUSA competition.

“When a position [at the Dennis Technical Center] became available, she took better than half a paycheck cut to come do this–all because she’s so passionate about the program,” Smith said. Wilson is now the Career Development Advisor and Industry Liaison for the Dennis Technical Center.

“I just want [the students] to realize the potential that they have and get them on a path to reach a goal that they may have,” Smith said.

Read the original story here.

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