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Local dealership hoping to better prepare students for workforce with new auto college

Education

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BLACKFOOT – Tadd Jenkins Auto Group is celebrating the opening of the American Auto College for anyone looking for a career as an automotive technician.

The college offers a three-year program for students to earn an associate degree of applied science in automotive technology. Those who enroll will have classroom instruction at 1010 West Bridge Street in Blackfoot, which Tadd Jenkins and The Blackfoot Chamber of Commerce commemorated Wednesday with a ribbon-cutting.

As part of the educational experience, students will get hands-on training as a paid intern inside an automotive shop.

“The shop is going to be in our dealership,” Tadd Jenkins tells EastIdahoNews.com. “The kids will go to work 32 hours a week in the dealership and they will have a mentor assigned to help them. They’ll be paid interns from day one and be able to rotate through all the departments so they understand how the whole operation works.”

JD Baumgarten, the school’s director, says the idea is to make the educational process more seamless. Many students start college with the understanding that it only takes a year but then discover later it takes several more years to become Automotive Service Excellence certified and certified to work on certain models of vehicles.

He’s excited to offer this program as an alternative to traditional college, which he feels does a much better job of preparing students for the workforce.

“In a traditional school environment, there’s a lot of focus on lecture over hands-on experience. Students tend to graduate from those environments with a degree but without enough relevant years in the shop so they can actually use the degree in a meaningful way,” Baumgarten says. “Whatever we’re doing in our class time … is going to be applied in the shop (immediately).”

Jenkins has seen the downfalls of the traditional model firsthand.

He explains that he’s hired automotive students from Brigham Young University-Idaho or Idaho State University to work in his shop. Though they are knowledgeable, he says they don’t have the practical skills to be valuable.

“I have technicians in the Blackfoot store that are certified on Chrysler and we can’t give them a Ford because the wire goes the other way,” Jenkins says. “Cars are so sophisticated today. When they come out of this program, they will be brand-specific.”

Baumgarten says there’s a shortage of skilled automotive technicians and the current average age for a working technician is 55. He’s hoping to change that trend by attracting younger people with the skills to do the job and that means changing the current educational model.

“We’re moving through a really different world and schools need to start reflecting that. That’s a lot of the intention behind this,” says Baumgarten. “I’m really hoping to attract talent that hadn’t considered this pathway before. We want people to stop thinking of tech or trade skills as something you do (if you weren’t good enough for) college. I’m seeing future leaders in the industry (through this program). The smartest thing to do now is (pursue) a trade.”

The program gets underway this summer. To register or learn more, click here.

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