With a mom who is a teacher and a dad who spent 40 years wrenching professionally, it may be no surprise that Chadwick Groom, automotive instructor with Northeast Ohio’s Six District Compact has found his calling.
After only 10 years as a teacher, Groom is already a seasoned pro with a genuine passion for his craft and an appreciation for the role he plays in assisting the next generation of automotive professionals.
Groom says he began his industry career early, behind the counter at a local Auto Zone. “I worked there while I was attending Stark State College, studying for my associates degree in automotive technology. I specialized in Toyota, Lexus, and Scion, graduated and went directly into the field as a dealership technician.”
After a decade on the OEM side, Groom did a two-year stint at a local independent shop focused on transmission work. Following that, he says, he started hearing the school bell ring.
“I got involved with a company called Ascend Learning, and developed the curriculum, the literature that was used for training purposes. That kind of opened the door into education,” Groom says.
“What really inspired me to get into this was, during my time at Stark State College, I started building strong relationships with my instructors. In the summer semester between my first and second year, they hired me on as a student helper. I got to engage with my instructors in a different way than I had during class.”
It was the trust and influence he felt from his mentor that were driving forces in Groom’s interest in education.
“One in particular made me feel important. He coached me through life, through career. He kept in touch with me well after graduation. He supported me in all of my career endeavors, even into teaching now. So he is the main reason that I’m doing what I’m doing. I thought that if this man can make me feel this way, what a blessing it would be to give that back to generations on generations.”
Encompassing six small school districts in Summit and Portage Counties (Hudson, Cuyahoga Falls, Kent Roosevelt, Stow-Munroe Falls, Woodridge and Tallmadge), the Compact was formed in 1970 and has been an exemplary program and a model for the entire state of Ohio.
This two-year high school automotive program begins students’ junior year, covering four basic courses: transportation maintenance, engine and powertrain, brakes, steering and suspension systems, and electrical.
Now in his 10th year of teaching, Groom says his approach to education has evolved much like the industry.
“I’ve taught at the technical college level, I’ve taught in inner city, and now I’m here in this Sixth District Compact. I’ve seen a lot of different situations and had to adapt to different scenarios and different circumstance,” he says.
“Over 10 years’ time, technology has changed a lot, so my practice has had to stay up to date. But I think just like with anything, practice makes perfect. I have a better ability to recognize individual abilities and create learning opportunities aimed at those individual abilities, all while working towards one common outcome.”
Because he deals with six different school systems filling his program, Groom’s challenges go far beyond those felt by some in the educational system. He says it’s important that he just shows he’s present for students, parents and professional colleagues. “Just being on time every day, not being absent; I’ve always got a backup plan. That demonstrates a sort of excellence that would be required in this industry,” he explains. “I’m still an ASE master certified technician. I attend annual update training, and I continuously push the boundaries. I’m self-motivated, so I’m always looking for a new venture in teaching. And my colleagues and school board, they’ve got really no choice but to help me in those endeavors.”
Groom says being named a finalist in the Blaster/Tomorrow’s Technician Instructor of the Year program isn’t just about him.
“I think, in general, this is a pretty thankless profession. There’s a lot of scrutiny and it’s not often recognized, just the amount of effort that goes into teaching in general. And then when you add into the mix, running a program, there’s just so many things that have to fall into place. A lot of the time you don’t get any recognition. I’m not doing it for the recognition, but to have this nomination just makes it feel that all of the long nights and early mornings, it’s all worth it.
Groom encourages the industry he loves to take a honest look at itself from the inside out. “Students are being faced with the idea of having to purchase their tools, pay for their education, and then go to work for basically minimum wage. It’s not very encouraging. I think industry needs to reach out (to programs like his), to see how they can support the programs and the program initiatives, engage with the students. Start thinking about how to drive interest, whether it’s paying for student schooling, or providing students with the tools after a probationary period or something. Maybe in 90 days, you’ve earned a toolbox, whatever the case may be, but we need to take a good, honest look in that regard.”
What’s next for his program? Groom says he has recently submitted an application to be accredited through ASE. “This will give us the opportunity to form more articulation agreements with local technical schools, and allow our students who are in the program right now to earn credit for this class and also earn credit that could be applied towards an associate’s degree or a certificate program.”
In addition, recognizing the lure of electricity, Groom has even more ambitious goals.
“I’m starting to develop a hybrid and electric vehicle curriculum,” he explains. “I’m looking to engage with business partners to gain access to vehicles and tools and training documents, and just continue to be the pipeline. I would like to be one of the main feeders into the number of technical schools in this area. We’ve four or five here in Ohio aloneWe have to come up with a plan (to face the technician shortage), and I think the plan starts here.”
Groom says interaction with former students continues to give him assurance that he’s on the right path.
“It’s extremely satisfying. I’ve got students who keep in touch with me years after graduation, letting me know about their successes. I’ve got handwritten letters in my office from students just thanking me. It’s extremely gratifying, he says.
“This is a line of business where you can really do no wrong. I encourage (future teachers) to just get in and get started and see where it takes you. It’s only going to take you up. It’s never going to take you down,” he says.