April 2019 - A new partnership between the AISD transportation department and the automotive technology program at the AISD Dan Dipert Career and Technical Center is giving high school auto tech students a unique opportunity to gain real-world experience. AISD white fleet vehicles are sent to the CTC where auto tech students perform needed maintenance.
“We’re preparing our students to be ready for the workforce,” said Guy Jones, AISD fleet manager and the architect of this new partnership, along with Jamal Harvey, automotive technology teacher at the CTC.
The CTC, which opened in 2017 and was funded by the 2014 Bond program, houses a state-of-the-art automotive shop and educational space. Upper classmen from all AISD high schools travel to the CTC for automotive classes.
White fleet vehicles are the district’s maintenance and operations vehicles. The majority are pickup trucks, Suburbans and vans, and many were also funded by the 2014 Bond. They are typically serviced in the transportation department’s own shop by the district’s professional mechanics.
But Jones came up with a new idea. Let the district’s automotive students do standard vehicle preventative maintenance (PMs) on the white fleet in the CTC shop, simulating for them what a real entry-level auto tech job is like. Larger repairs, including anything that might carry liability issues, would be left to the district’s mechanics.
The new partnership kicked off in January and is still getting off the ground, but already white fleet vehicles are going to the CTC for routine maintenance. The goal is to send six to eight each week.
The white fleet vehicles are dropped off at the CTC in the morning, and then auto tech students perform PMs and light repairs, including oil changes, fuel filter changes, tire rotations and alignments. Jamal Harvey and fellow CTC automotive teacher Gary Foote inspect and sign-off on all the students’ work. The students also inspect the vehicles and let the transportation department know if any larger issues exist.
Mastering preventative maintenance is crucial for the students, as that’s what will qualify them for their first jobs. And the chance to perform PMs on a large number of vehicles – especially vehicles that are operational and belong to a client – is exceptional.
“I’ve never had this happen at a district where they’d let us work on district vehicles,” Harvey said.
The vehicles come in and go out, much like a real shop, offering students a real-world experience. And their work matters. Students get a strong sense of responsibility knowing their work on the vehicles helps the district and the district employees who drive them.
“The students see something new on a regular basis, and they get to run into problems,” Harvey said.
Good problems – the kind that offer challenges that students must overcome, ultimately making them better mechanics.
“This gives them the skills to hold down a job,” Harvey said.
Harvey explained that most auto mechanic shops will not employ anyone under 18, so getting real-world experience is hard to find. But the opportunity to work on white fleet vehicles fills that gap, giving students experience they can’t get anywhere else. Once they graduate, they’ll be ready to get a job.
In addition to the white fleet vehicles, the transportation department also donated two Silverado pickup trucks to the CTC shop. The trucks had exhausted their usefulness to the district and were slated for auction. Instead, Jones sent them to the CTC to serve as training vehicles, and he expects to send more in the future.
“These are great because it’s hard to get vehicles donated that actually run,” Harvey said.
Students can train on these trucks and take them apart without having to worry about breaking something.
Jones and Harvey are extremely excited about their new partnership as both are passionate about sharing their automotive experience with students and preparing them for successful careers in the industry. “Fellow gear heads,” as Jones described them, they believe this partnership is just the beginning.
“Both departments feel this could manifest itself into a program that has tremendous growth potential and be a program for other districts to model,” Jones said. “We can have this thing snowball.”
For example, Jones and Harvey envision a future summer mentorship program for auto tech students at the transportation department. Students – after they have gained valuable PM experience at the CTC – would apply for, interview and ultimately earn a paid summer job at the AISD transportation department shop. They would spend the summer getting real-life experience alongside the district’s professional mechanics.
Jones’ vision goes even further.
“Perhaps someday we’ll hire one of our auto tech graduates to become a mechanic for the district, or an automotive instructor, or even the fleet manager.”