All of the students who participated in the 2017 UTI Top Tech Challenge posed for a photo after the winners were announced. Photo credit: Daniel Rhodes
Since its doors opened in August 2015, Universal Technical Institute (UTI)-Long Beach has worked toward establishing itself as a vital workforce partner to the automotive industry in Greater Los Angeles.
“Four out of five of our students get jobs in the industry within one year of graduating from our school,” said UTI-Long Beach Education Director Becky Hoskins. “There is a strong demand for auto technicians in the market. Our manufacturer partners and local dealers are eager to hire our graduates because of the skills and professionalism they are taught here.”
Hoskins, a Long Beach native, has worked in education for more than 32 years.
Hoskins said UTI-Long Beach’s success lies in its teaching model.
“Our advanced curriculum is largely hands-on, conducted in one of more than 20 automotive labs on campus,” she said. “We combine that with web-based and instructor-based learning that involves a great deal of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) coursework.”
Hoskins explained, "Students complete their interactive online learning (IOL), which allows them to watch an instructor tear apart an engine or work on a transmission before attending a lecture or attempting it themselves.”
Although training certificates and GPA are important factors in the hiring process, Hoskins said employers are also interested in soft skills.
“The first two things every employer wants is strong attendance and professionalism, so we grade on both and recognize high achievement,” she said.
As part of their training for a professional environment, Hoskins said students are required to wear a uniform to class. It’s a UTI-branded button-up shirt, which needs to be tucked into their pants.
“Students must wear safety glasses in the labs at all times, and have to keep long hair pulled back,” she said. “These are all industry expectations.”
Hoskins said UTI’s emphasis on workplace standards in the classroom sets them apart from other technical schools.
According to Hoskins, UTI’s approach is working. In the almost two years since it launched in August 2015, UTI-Long Beach has nearly reached its 800-student capacity.
“The number is increasing as the word gets out, which is really nice to see,” Hoskins said. “It’s not just male students either. We have a small but steadily increasing number of female students. We attribute part of that growth to how many female employees we have at UTI, including our CEO, which we believe encourages prospective students.”
The education director said the typical age range for students is 18-25.
“Forty percent of students are directly out of high school,” she explained. “The remaining portion may have tried traditional college or worked in another industry, and now they’re looking for a new opportunity with real income potential.”
As far as collision repair, UTI Long Beach offers a variety of courses and certifications for all levels.
“Collision repair really is an art,” said Hoskins. “One of our administrators added an ‘A’ for 'art' in STEM to make it STEAM for that reason.”
Students are required take general painting, welding, and estimating courses to complete their collision degree, which takes 51 weeks.
“When working on panel alignment, students are graded on how they repair the damage, all the way through to the base coat,” she explained. “Students will work on anything from mini panels to full-size vehicles.”
Hoskins added that students have a huge computerized color spectrum to chose from when repainting panels.
“They can pick and mix just about any color they want,” she said.
UTI-Long Beach’s welding lab has 28 stations, where students work with steel and aluminum in order to earn their I-CAR certifications.
“Students have the opportunity to earn advanced certifications from Chief, 3M, and Axalta, just to name a few,” Hoskins added.
In the estimating lab, students were working on a pick-up truck from Texas with hail dents.
“The students will assess all types of repair processes,” she said. “It gets real interesting because our instructors will be creative with how they damage our lab vehicles to help students with estimating unique circumstances.”
Hoskins added that there’s a real need for estimators in the industry.
“A lot of technicians move into estimating later in their careers, so it’s a nice skill to understand,” she explained. “However, many of them retire, and the positions aren’t being filled. It can be a great opportunity for some students.”
UTI-Long Beach offers advanced custom body work and painting courses for students who qualify.
“These courses allow students to get even more creative,” Hoskins added. “They can make pretty much anything they want.”
Another way UTI Long Beach prepares students is by hosting career fairs. The most recent event was held in early March.
“Attendees got to meet with 23 employers,” Hoskins said. “Fifty interviews were conducted and 15 job offers were made onsite.”
UTI has more than 30 OEM partnerships, including BMW, Mercedes Benz, and Nissan.
“We host three to four career fairs each year and two to three job fairs a year,” said UTI-Long Beach Campus Employment Services Director Jennifer Pritchard, who has worked in her field for 13 years. “We often try to have employers come to campus to do presentations to help expand the students’ knowledge base on that particular brand, and then when an OEM has an opening, we try to schedule an on-campus interview.”
Pritchard said she’s received a “fantastic” response from both parties.
“The students are able to be on campus on their home turf and connect with an employer, while the employer is able to be in one spot and connect with multiple potential employees,” she explained. “It’s a win-win.”
On April 19, one of the technical school’s partners - INFINITI - launched its one-of-a-kind advanced industry training program exclusively for UTI students.
According to a press release, “Graduates of UTI’s core automotive technology program can apply for the 18-week INFINITI Technician Training Academy (ITTA) program. If they are selected and commit to working with an INFINITI USA retailer once they graduate, INFINITI will pay their tuition for the ITTA program in full.”
UTI-Long Beach offers opportunities for local high school students. On March 11, 2017, 10 high schools in the greater Los Angeles district were represented at UTI’s Top Tech Automotive Skills Competition.
Two-person teams competed in written and hands-on testing on vehicle parts, brakes, diagnostics and electrical systems for a chance to win UTI scholarships.
Both members of the top three student teams received UTI scholarships of $10,000, $7,500, and $5,000 for first through third place, respectively. Each team’s school received Snap-On® tool sets that range in value from $1,379 up to $2,365 for the winning team.
Click here for more information on UTI-Long Beach.