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Sandy Journal

Adult education students can enter into nationally recognized auto apprenticeship program

Mar 16, 2020 02:21PM ● By Julie Slama

McNeil’s Auto Care Master Automotive Technician Jake Sorensen teaches adults automotive technician skills in the pre-apprenticeship program through Entrada High School. (Mark Mataya/Entrada High School)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

McNeil’s Auto Care Master Automotive Technician Jake Sorensen won the 2019 Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Award last year, and was recently named NAPA-Automotive Service of Excellence National Teacher of the Year.

Yet, he didn’t take the direct path to his career success.

Sorensen earned his GED thanks to Entrada, Canyons School District’s high school that offers adults educational opportunities to earn a high school diploma, prepare to take the GED test or improve educational skills like math, reading and writing.

Even so, Sorensen initially was cautious to help those on the same path.

“He had reservations, justly warranted, about the idea,” said his boss, Pete McNeil of McNeill’s Automotive. “It was a gamble and we weren’t sure it would work. We were taking away a top mechanic from fixing cars to creating a curriculum to teach; Jake is a L3, that’s the equivalent of a three- or four-star general. He wasn’t sure of the outcome, but he was the right guy to do this. He always thirsts for learning.”

The first class of students won Sorensen over, McNeil said.

“They learned better than we expected; their quality of work was better, their productivity was better, they were fast learners, they already were exposed to technology, so they were just ahead and could learn that much quicker. Jake was excited about their progress and has been an advocate ever since. The program has just been a natural fit,” McNeil said, adding that NAPA contributed to the program by updating the Entrada facility.

For eight weeks, students in McNeil’s AutoCare and Entrada pre-apprenticeship partnership program are introduced to educational and technological linear path skills that can prepare them for the McNeil’s two-year apprenticeship program toward a career in the automotive technician field, said Mark Mataya, Entrada adult education program manager.

“It’s like an extended job interview,” said Mataya, who said that this is one of Entrada’s programs specifically designed to meet the needs of adult learners. “They learn about the career, they job shadow, they learn and at the same time, the company gets to know them, how they are, if they show up on time, see their interest, their positive attitude.”

The program was developed more than three years ago after McNeil and Sorensen met with Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the Utah Board of Education, the state Department of Labor and Entrada. Then, McNeil and Sorensen wrote the apprenticeship curriculum “out of necessity,” McNeil said.

“In the next five to seven years, there will be over 50% who will retire and less than 10% are making it their careers  — and that doesn’t count the growth rate in the field,” he said.

McNeil said many prospective technicians shy from the field because they don’t want to complete an automotive program in debt and without tools that can cost them up to $50,000 — plus the perception of the job is of a “torn up engine with oil spilled, tools scattered, and papers everywhere,” not of the computer programming and technical field it has become, where technicians can earn “upward to six figures.”

McNeil said that not only is the apprenticeship program paid, but the technicians get paid and receive raises as they complete the program steps.

“They finish with no debt, a career path, four ASE certificates, a Department of Labor certification and a toolbox with tools; that’s unheard of in this field,” McNeil said, adding that the first pre-apprenticeship class began about one year after this program was in place.

While not every one of the 50 Entrada students who have completed the pre-apprenticeship class has entered the two-year apprenticeship program, as some opt just to fulfill their educational criteria for their diploma or GED, McNeil said there are students who are currently in the program and those who have successfully completed it and now are hired in one of McNeil’s two automotive shops, working alongside 62 ASE certified automotive technicians, including three who are master technicians.

The Utah State Board of Education supports this adult education learning.

“Many individuals who have the interest in a career may not have the right education, so they just give up rather than explore their interest,” said Brian Olmstead, Utah State Board of Education Adult Education and Prevention and At-Risk Programs student support coordinator. “Entrada and McNeil’s are giving students step 1 and 2 in a progression of lifetime learning. It mirrors learning in technical high school and colleges and higher education, but now adult education is getting in the game. These partnerships are invaluable to our adult learners.”

The partnership has gained attention locally — being named Canyons APEX Business Partner of the Year in 2018 — and nationally, as McNeil’s was named 2020 Auto Care Shop of the Year out of more than 17,000 NAPA shops across the country.

McNeil and Sorensen also have shared their story on online videos as well as at conferences throughout the country — as they will this April at a conference for industry leaders who gather every five years. Now, NAPA is modeling other educational apprenticeship programs after theirs.

“What has been done, built with McNeil’s, NAPA, now on the national stage with NAPA taking the design and modeling it throughout the country, it’s just an incredible piece of what happened in Sandy, Utah to fit our adult learners and the need to fill the demand in the industry,” Olmstead said.