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Advice for Instructors: Reaching Out to the Future Technicians

Having an effective Advisory Committee for your school isn’t just a good idea. It could mean the difference between growing or going away.

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BY:
Bill Kersten
NATEF President

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Many owe a debt of gratitude to the automotive industry for providing us with a career that has been successful, rewarding and fulfilling. It’s not only been a great way to provide for our families, for most of us, it’s something we very much enjoy doing.

In my experience, I’ve found a job I love, and by doing that I’ve never worked a day in my life. But as much as we are dedicated to our chosen profession, and regardless of where in the industry we labor, we all share a responsibility to give something back.

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How we respond will determine what kind of future our industry will create for itself. As such, automotive instructors are in one of the most important positions in the industry these days, and how well their training programs perform will have a direct impact on the industry in the years ahead.

Making sure these programs survive and thrive is critical, and one of the most effective ways to ensure your program’s ongoing success is to have an engaged Advisory Committee for your local career and technical school’s transportation technician training programs.

Some new automotive instructors, as well as some with more experience, may question the value of an Advisory Committee for their program. They feel that they are already overwhelmed by everything that is expected of them by their administration, and conducting Advisory Committee meetings just puts one more burden on them.

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Other instructors say that they already have a good program and their students are employed when they graduate, so they don’t need an Advisory Committee. However, the majority of automotive instructors across the country say that their Advisory Committee is the key to the success of their program.

But building an effective Advisory Committee involves finding professionals who can share in the effort to provide the best educational opportunities for automotive technology students.  The best Advisory Committee members are stakeholders in the community (i.e. business owners, potential employers, working technicians, former students).

They provide the eyes and ears into the everyday workplace that students are preparing to enter. They are the best partner, resource, and advocate with school administration.

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“A strong Advisory Committee is my finger on the pulse of our industry. They guide what we teach and provide that all-important link for our job shadowing opportunities, apprenticeships, and instructor update training,” said automotive instructor Brian Manley at Smoky Hill High School in Aurora, CO.

“Without our committee, we are like an old record player, only able to play the old tunes.”

Diversity, professionalism, and a willingness to be involved are important characteristics for successful Advisory Committee members, as is enthusiasm for the program.

“When I first joined ASE, an industry colleague invited me to sit in on an Advisory Committee meeting of the local technical school in Leesburg, VA,” said Tony Molla, ASE VP of Communications.

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“When I saw how involved the committee members were and the difference they made in getting the attention and resources of the school administration, I thought joining this group would be a great way to give something back. That was eight years ago and I’m still participating.”

Steven Ford, Instructor/Coordinator of the Automotive Collision Technology program at South Seattle Community College, also acknowledged the important role of their committee.

“Our Automotive Collision Program would not be where it is today on the leading edge of Automotive Collision training without our Advisory Committee. In 1998, our enrollment was down to 11 students and with those numbers the program would have been doomed. Today, we have 38 students enrolled in the College program and have had a waiting list for 5 years. 

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"We also have a secondary high school program with an enrollment of 20 students in the afternoon. The Advisory Committee was also instrumental in getting our program ASE/NATEF certified in 2000. They donated time, equipment, knowledge and direction. Our Advisory Committee is also a great resource for our students, providing internships, employment and talking with the students about careers in the industry, etc.”

Having a strong Advisory Committee is particularly critical if the school is seeking or currently holds ASE Certification through the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF). In fact, the NATEF Standards require rather than suggest active participation of an Advisory Committee for programs seeking certification.

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There’s a good reason, as Advisory Committees provide several important functions, which are crucial to having a quality automotive training program. These include:

• Program Review – this is perhaps the most important function of an Advisory Committee and includes reviewing program goals, budgeted funds, student follow-up surveys, instructional evaluation, and an annual evaluation of the facilities. This input is critical to overall program improvement.

• Equipment, Facilities, and Resources Review – another important function of an Advisory Committee is to recommend the facility requirements and the equipment needed for an optimal learning environment.

The recommendations from the committee carry more weight with school administrators and can establish a plan for procuring needed equipment, locate sources of donated or low-cost instructional supplies and equipment, secure outside funding to ensure that instructors attend professional and industry meetings, or obtain current industry publications and visual aids for the program.

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• Curriculum Content Advice – the committee advises the instructor about what to teach rather than how to teach, with a focus on whether graduates will possess the entry-level job skills needed by employers.  

• Career Guidance and Student Placement – committee members often get involved with career days activities, conduct mock interviews, and identify prospective employers in the local area. This is how the best school-to-work programs are created, functioning almost like apprenticeship programs.

Here, committee members fulfill an important role by helping identify local repair businesses willing to provide student tours, provide instruction on specific topics, or host teacher training clinics or workshops.

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• Community Public Relations – committee members can help a lot in raising the visibility of their local technical program in any number of ways. Some may write an article for the school or local newspaper, be a speaker at a civic group meeting, or feature the program in their company advertising. Others may work to obtain contributions to the program through various community activities and events.

It is important to understand that the primary function of an Advisory Committee is to make recommendations and give advice rather than to set policy. Committee members who understand their role and the guidelines for participation are more effective and are more likely to participate regularly in the process.

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Holding regular meetings is important, but don’t overdo it. Two working meetings per year are probably sufficient. Also, don’t forget to thank your committee members with some annual event, usually at the end of the school year, which can be as simple as a group dinner or a night out at a local sporting event. Certificates of appreciation are easy to provide and go a long way toward recognizing the commitment of your committee members.

There are many resources available for instructors who need some help establishing an Advisory Committee or learning how to work more effectively with an existing committee.

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One such resource is posted on the NATEF web site at www.natef.org. Go to the section titled “Certification Process” and click on Advisory Committee Information. You can download an Advisory Committee Handbook in PDF format that will provide detailed information to supplement the information provided in this article.

An effective Advisory Committee is involved as a partner in helping to educate tomorrow’s technicians. The members have an interest in the educational opportunities provided for the students as well as the quality of the graduates of the program.

Advisory Committees may also make the difference with the policy makers in determining whether your program not only survives, but thrives in times of shrinking budgets and high educational expectations.

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But perhaps most importantly, it’s a chance to give something back to the industry, which has provided us our livelihood, and ensures that the vital consumer services we provide will continue to grow and prosper into the 21st Century and beyond. Build strong partnerships; your program and your students need them.

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