Q: Tell us a little about the history of WyoTech.
A: We’re celebrating our 50th anniversary this year for WyoTech. WyoTech was established in 1966 as a diesel training program and we expanded into automotive rather quickly. We consider our core programs to be automotive, diesel and collision refinishing. Starting in the 1970s and through the 1990s, we added elective programs such as trim and upholstery and applied service management, where students learn all aspects of communications and business operations. We also created restoration and performance courses, which are our street rod, motorsports chassis fabrication and high-performance courses. We now have three locations: Daytona Beach, FL, which is our motorcycle/marine school; Laramie, WY; and Blairsville, PA, where we have our automotive, diesel and collision-related campuses.
Q: You’re in a unique position because you’ve been there so long – maybe you can talk about how the collision industry has changed and why there’s such an extreme need now for new people?
A: The change has taken place within the last four to five years primarily. The aging of our technician force is probably the biggest reason, and it’s driving the need because techs are retiring and it’s only going to escalate as we move forward into the next 10-15 years. So all of the industries--and this is not only in the automotive and transportation field, but all trades, electrical, welding, HVAC, construction--have been affected due to the aging workforce. And it is compounded because the secondary schools that are teaching industrial arts and automotive programs are fewer than ever. So what we’re finding is a real lack of education in our trades. Our focus is to try to create a larger pool of entry-level techs. We know too that we can't do it alone. We’ve got to work together with the industry so that these schools are able to create good career development strategies.
Q: What do you do as the Industry Relations Specialist for WyoTech?
A: I work with all of the industries we are involved in to provide support for our programs at the campuses and provide opportunities for our students. And that ultimately helps our outreach and admissions team. We’ve got admissions representatives that are positioned across the country. They visit high schools, private schools and community colleges and present what WyoTech has to offer while creating more awareness around the need for new professionals in all of our industries, including collision repair. You’re seeing community colleges stepping back into the trades, but I still see the high schools and secondary market lagging behind. You know the perception from mom and dad: "Oh, you want to be a mechanic? You don’t want to get all greasy..." But the industry has changed and the old stereotype of backyard mechanics covered in dirt no longer exists. Everything is so high-tech now with the amount of electrical wires, connected systems, and computers in these cars. Who's going to work on all that? It's going to be the technically-inclined young people who really get the level of sophistication and skill needed to repair those systems. It’s a great time to be looking at this industry as a career and a good time as an education organization to be offering this training, keeping up with the changes in technology, and partnering with the some of the best companies in the automotive industry.
One of our main priorities is evolving and updating our curriculum to ensure that we’re meeting the need and the demands of all our industries, including collision repair. There are students that come to us with very little knowledge of tool nomenclature, vehicle terminologies, etc., so we’re adjusting our curriculum to support that. We also have students who complete high school automotive programs before enrolling. In addition, approximately 30 percent of our students are veterans whose skills in the military often transition well to the programs we offer.
Q: How many collision repair students do you have in your programs?
A: Right now I would say it’s about 15–20 percent, with most of our students in our diesel programs. So we are trying to build on that population and get more focus on collision by building awareness. If you look at Department of Labor statistics, the earning potential has historically been a bit better on your diesel and automotive side.
Q: What do you offer for someone who wants to be a technician, a painter or an estimator?
A: We provide a good overview of entry level skills in each category of collision repair. We follow NATEF and the I-CAR standards. When students graduate, they have their Non-Structural Level One and Refinish Level One Platinum Certificates. We’re an I-CAR welding test site and an ASE test site both at Laramie and Blairsville. Our core collision program is 1,000 hours and the student also chooses an elective. So a student comes to WyoTech for nine months, 1,500 hours of training. We're providing the students with a strong foundation to help them get employed--maybe they want to work on the metal side or on the refinishing side, it's their choice, but we're giving them the skills they need.
Q: And do you then try to help to get them jobs after graduation?
A: Absolutely. One of the great things that has always been the hallmark of WyoTech is our career services department. We’ve got a career services team that works with the students and employers. We hold career fairs throughout the year at our campuses as well. We invite employers into the campuses; they set up tables and talk to the students. Many do interviews onsite at that time as well. We have them at least twice a year, sometimes as much as four – depending on the population.
Q: Tell us what you're going to be doing at this year's SEMA Show?
A: We applied to Ford for a vehicle that we could customize and showcase at this year's SEMA to commemorate our 50th anniversary. It's a 2016 Ford Transit van. We are doing a custom build and working on it right now. It's going to resemble one of those old classic vans from the late 60’s and early 70’s, but with new technology throughout. The build is currently being filmed at our Blairsville location for season 12 of Chop Cut Rebuild, so it's exciting. We'll be in Central Hall at this year's SEMA show, booth #23893, and we will also be showcasing our motorcycle program by building an early 1970s Easy Rider-type Harley to tie in with the theme of 50 years.