Alternative Fuels Programs at Saddleback and Santa Ana Colleges are Driving Student Success Feature Story

April 29, 2022
plug in hybrid car

As the effects of climate change continue to wreak havoc on our environment, industries across the globe are revolutionizing their means and methods to become more environmentally conscious and friendly. Within the advanced transportation sector, alternative fuels and the vehicles that use them have emerged as a critical solution to the problem of fossil fuels and carbon emissions they create. But this solution has brought with it another problem—as these vehicles become more commonplace, so does the need to service them.

Once again, Orange County’s community colleges have stepped up to support regional employers and students with unique alternative fuels programs designed to help businesses find workers and help graduates find jobs. As the only two such programs in Southern California, Saddleback College and Santa Ana College’s alternate fuel technology and hybrid vehicles programs are providing critical training in this field for new and incumbent workers alike.

After 1-2 years of experience and training, students who’ve earned a certificate or degree are fully prepared to enter the workforce as an entry-level service technician in this high-demand field. While each college prepares students for maximum success, there are some differences.

Both programs provide hands-on electric and hybrid vehicle service training with a focus on safety. This training is especially important due to the high voltage and high-pressure nature of these systems which can make them very dangerous for the untrained.

“Most dealerships are asking for technicians who are able to safely work on vehicles without hurting themselves or damaging the vehicle,” explains Professor David Roper, Department Co-Chair of Santa Ana College’s Automotive and Diesel Technology Department.

At Saddleback, students learn about hydrogen fuel cells and different types of alternative fuels through their unique Alternative Fuel Vehicle Specialist associate degree and certificate program. This program emphasizes the unique characteristics and maintenance issues associated with hybrid and alternative fuel systems. Saddleback’s other programs include Automotive Chassis Specialist, Automotive Engine Performance Specialist, Automotive Engine Service Specialist, and General Automotive Technician, all of which are offered as a 2-year associate degree or career-ready certificate.

Soon, Saddleback will be launching a new Electric Vehicle Technician certificate that can be achieved in a year and added on to other automotive certificates to start or further advance a technician’s career.

At Santa Ana College, an associate degree in Automotive Technology is offered alongside eight different industry-focused certificate programs which include Advanced Engine Performance, ​Chassis Service, ​Drive Train Service, ​Engine Performance & Electrical, ​Engine Service, ​Automotive Business Technology ​Electric Vehicle Technician​, ​and Alternative Fuels and Hybrid/Electric Vehicles.

Santa Ana College is also the only program in Orange County to have a full diesel program. It offers two degrees and eight certificates for students interested in diesel and light, medium, and heavy-duty vehicles. Of particular note is an Alternative Fuels – Clean Diesel certificate which focuses on the safety, operation, and maintenance of clean diesel vehicles with an emphasis on clean diesel and CNG (natural gas) fuel systems.

Programs at both colleges prepare students to take the associated Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification exams—an important component of advancing on the pay scale. But these aren’t the only skills students learn.

“At Saddleback College, we coach students on how to interview and how to conduct themselves in the workplace,” explains Brooks. “We are more focused on developing soft skills than ever before.”

These skills are a critical component of both programs. According to Brooks and Roper, teaching students about cars is only part of their program’s mission—getting them into great paying careers is the other. To this end, both colleges partner with regional industry manufacturers to create training and employment opportunities while instructors work hard to place students at local manufacturers they have relationships with. These close industry ties also support their ongoing commitment to expand their curriculum and offer more training for the future demands of the industry.

“Technology is moving so quickly, we have to adapt at a much faster pace than colleges are typically used to,” says Brooks. “Technology is outpacing minimum projections at a level that has never been seen, so we want to prepare our students for that.”

For more information about these programs, please visit the automotive technology program pages at Saddleback College and Santa Ana College.