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College Grads Replace Grease Monkeys at Dealerships

The technology in cars becomes more complex each year. A basic compact car comes packed with electronics. Luxury models are rolling communication devices.  Finding the right people to service these vehicles is an ongoing struggle for dealerships.

“There is a real shortage of automotive technicians,” says Gary Upton, supervisor of the Toyota Express Maintenance Program at Toyota of Orange in Southern California. “This business is getting very technical.”

To help solve the tech-shortage problem, several local dealership associations and dealerships themselves have formed partnerships with community colleges to turn out the type of service technicians needed.

Today’s service tech is far from the grease monkey of days past. Up to 50 computers are in one vehicle, Upton says. Technicians work with scan tools, essentially laptop computers that diagnose vehicle problems.

His dealership partners with Cyprus College, a local community college, to train technicians. Cyprus offers certification in Toyota’s program, Technician Training & Technical Network, or T-TEN.

The program aims to meet the “explosive” need for service techs at Toyota’s 1,500 dealerships, says Rick Lester, technician-development manager at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.

Most of his techs have college degrees at some level, he says. “We promote college education.”

Toyota of Orange belongs to the Orange Country Automotive Dealers Assn.,

actively markets the California New Car Dealers Assn.’s foundation scholarship program for training at those schools. Last year, $52,000 in scholarships went to 70 students in Orange County.

The Central Florida Auto Dealers Assn. has gone a step further. It built its own tech-training center at a local community college. The CFADA Professional Automotive Training Center at Seminole State College in Sanford, FL, is housed in a $10.4 million, 55,000-sq.-ft. (5,109-sq.-m) facility that includes a 19,200-sq.-ft. 1,784-sq.-m) shop with 33 lifts.

The center offers a 2-year degree, 1-year certification program and training for specific auto manufacturers including General Motors and Ford.

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