Students at Western Maricopa Education Center (West-MEC) – a public career technical education district – receive a well-rounded education focused on technical and leadership skills that make them competitive in the workforce.
Long before teaching automotive students at West-MEC’s Northeast Campus in Deer Valley, Nick Shumaker landed his first technician job because of a friend’s referral who knew Shumaker worked on his family’s vehicles and read car manuals.
After 15 years in the industry, Shumaker decided to pass his knowledge to the next generation of automotive technicians.
His goal is for students to understand how a vehicle’s individual systems affect one another.
“I didn’t have the formalized background like my students have. I knew how to work on cars, I just didn’t get the big picture. For me to give my students that perspective beforehand – understanding critical thinking and following a scientific method – is giving them an advantage in the industry,” said Shumaker.
These technical skills are important for students.
The skills gap – the lack of qualified workers to fill skilled positions – casts a long shadow, but equipping students with certifications is only part of the solution.
Kyle Holloway is a senior at Youngker High School in Buckeye.
In May, he will graduate and complete the automotive technology program at the Northeast Campus with a distinct honor.
He will be the first student in campus history to have a perfect attendance record.
“If I’m going to learn something every day, I’m going to show up every day. And I do learn something every single day,” said Holloway.
Despite having a two-hour commute – the Northeast Campus is 44 miles away from Youngker – Kyle is often 30 minutes early to class.
To pay for his gas and car, Kyle works as a restaurant host in addition to attending West-MEC and Youngker.
“If something goes sideways in the lab, Kyle immediately tells me. He comes early and stays late. He’s a model employee,” Shumaker laughed, “and he’s pretty good at working on cars too.”
Such focus and work ethic is hard to teach, but it puts students ahead of their peers.
“I have students who get hired for the attendance awards in their portfolio. Employers want someone who shows up,” said Shumaker.
All programs at West-MEC have a co-curricular student organization that teaches students about leadership and gives them the opportunity to put their skills to the test.
SkillsUSA, the automotive program’s student organization, is crucial to student development.
“SkillsUSA builds the core of what gets students hired and keeps them from getting fired. They have to learn how to work well together and communicate effectively if they want to succeed in the field,” said Shumaker.
At SkillUSA competitions, both leadership and technical skills are evaluated in a multi-station circuit touching on all aspects of a vehicle.
Landon Hunt, a second-year student in Shumaker’s automotive program, recently took third in the statewide SkillsUSA competition.
This impressive feat is underscored by the fact Landon came to the program a blank canvas.
“I knew cars had an engine and exhaust and that was about it. I didn’t even know how to change oil,” said Hunt.
Even though he had no initial background in cars – besides being a fan of the “Fast and the Furious” movies – Landon now works as a valet at an Audi dealership.
After finishing the auto program and becoming certified, Landon will be promoted to a service tech apprentice at the dealership.
“Landon came in with little auto knowledge, but he has a technical mindset. He’s got a great attitude and isn’t afraid to try new things,” said Shumaker.
For both Kyle and Landon, the technical skills they have learned have opened up opportunities for well-paying jobs right out of high school without the burden of student loans.
But the biggest lessons learned move beyond fixing cars.
“Shumaker is focused not only on building us through automotive, but as a person. I’ve learned to not be scared of putting myself out there and taking the lead to help others follow along,” said Hunt. “It’s not something you can learn from a manual.”
Original article posted on May 7, 2019|by KYLE BACKER/ WEST-MEC.