Lee County ATC automotive technology program building a tradition of excellence

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Tyler Childers and Devin Thomas confer over their repair work during the Ford AAA Student Auto Skills competition held at the Ford Truck plant in Louisville. The two Lee County ATC students finished with a perfect car and top prize in the annual event. Photo submitted
Tyler Childers and Devin Thomas confer over their repair work during the Ford AAA Student Auto Skills competition held at the Ford Truck plant in Louisville. The two Lee County ATC students finished with a perfect car and top prize in the annual event.
Photo submitted by Tim Thornberry

LOUISVILLE, Ky.–As today’s automobiles become more and more technically advanced, training at the secondary education level for technician jobs has become more important.

 John Lucas knows that and his automotive technology classes at the Lee County Area Technology Center are geared toward helping students problem solve issues in a way that prepares them for a career in the industry.

His students have become quite adept in their problem-solving techniques, so much so that they have become top finishers in the annual Ford/AAA Students Auto Skills competition.

The competition is comprised of two components—a written qualifying exam and a hands-on competition, where 10 cars are “bugged” identically with problems the students have to solve. The two-person team that finds and repairs the most problems in the fastest time wins a trip to the national competition at Ford Motor World Headquarters in Michigan.

This year’s Lucas-led team won the state competition, marking the second time in three years they have achieved the honor.

Rick Elliott, the technical support operations manager for Ford’s Midwest market, said the company uses the event to help identify up-and-coming young talent that will one day staff their dealership service departments.

“The high school (programs) kind of lay the foundation and really lights the spark inside the students to develop this passion they have for cars and take it to a level where they can make a living doing it,” Elliott said.

Elliot said the competition demonstrates that training really never ends. Ford offers training for these young technicians through programs like Automotive Student Service Educational Training (ASSET), a paid internship program that alternates between the classroom and a Ford or Lincoln dealer. .

“The nice thing about ASSET is you earn while you learn,” Elliott said. “There is a sponsoring dealer that would provide you a place to work and pair you up with a mentor technician and apply what you’ve learned in the classroom to a real-world environment.”

He said for those students that go on to enter the industry, dealerships are always looking for good technicians and it’s a job that is recession proof.

J.J. Miller, AAA safety adviser and coordinator of the Ford/AAA Students Auto Skills competition, said it’s good to see these students working toward a career.

“They have a gift and I hope everyone gets an opportunity to use it,” she said. “I think this competition is wonderful because it gives students an opportunity to go to college, where they may not have otherwise been able to afford to do it.”

The competition awards millions in scholarships. More than $10 million scholarship prizes were awarded last year, according to information from AAA.

For the second time in three years, students in John Lucas' automotive technology classes at the Lee County Area Technology Center have won the state Ford/AAA Students Auto Skills Competition. At this year's presentation were, from left, Sam Collier, competition manager with the Kentucky Community and Technical College System; Devin Thomas, Lee County ATC student; Rick Elliott, Ford Motor Co. technical support manager; John Lucas, Lee County ATC automotive technology instructor; Todd Nickens of the Office of Career and Technical Education; Tyler Childers, Lee County ATC student; and J.J. Miller, competition coordinator with AAA. Photo submitted by Tim Thornberry
For the second time in three years, students in John Lucas’ automotive technology classes at the Lee County Area Technology Center have won the state Ford/AAA Students Auto Skills Competition. At this year’s presentation were, from left, Sam Collier, competition manager with the Kentucky Community and Technical College System; Devin Thomas, Lee County ATC student; Rick Elliott, Ford Motor Co. technical support manager; John Lucas, Lee County ATC automotive technology instructor; Todd Nickens of the Office of Career and Technical Education; Tyler Childers, Lee County ATC student; and J.J. Miller, competition coordinator with AAA.
Photo submitted by Tim Thornberry

Miller added that getting a start in the field at the high school level is beneficial to students and the industry.

“I think for the students, maintaining their education and keeping up with the academics required along with their technical ability is important in keeping cars safe on the highway,” she said. “When I pull into a garage, I want quality service and I think these students are going to excel in exactly what we are trying to reach with this; to be the best technicians they possibly can be.”

Lucas said he was confident in his students and the way they performed during the competition.

“The team executed this exactly the way they have been taught and that tells me they were listening very well,” he said. “We don’t really train for the competition. It is fundamentals that helps us prevail and it’s always fundamentals.”

Lucas said a strong foundation in the fundamentals helps his students perform well.

“They have to know how to use the equipment,” he said. “They have to use a common sense technique and be able to problem solve. That’s big part of this contest.

“I wouldn’t say either of these students knew this particular car well, but they could apply what they did today to any vehicle. And that is what they will do in the real world.”

It took the team from Lee County 48 minutes to find the bugs and correct them. The end result was a perfect car. In fact, it was the only perfect car in the competition.

Devin Thomas, a senior at Lee County, said it was exciting to get to participate in the competition.

“This was probably one of the biggest moments of my high school career, aside from graduating,” he said.

Thomas will attend the University of Northwestern Ohio to further his auto-tech studies in pursuit of a career in the industry.

Tyler Childers, who also is a senior at Lee County, said although automobiles have become quite complex, learning at the high school level has prepared him for the future.

“I didn’t know a lot about the computer side of the business until I got to Mr. Lucas and now it seems kind of easy,” he said. “I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I know it will be working with cars.”

Incidentally, Thomas and Childers finished 12th at the national competition— with a perfect car, of course.

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