‘Going Gangbusters’: GWC Automotive Tech Paves Road to Success Feature Story

July 25, 2019
GWC Automotive Program instructor teaching a student

“When I started, I just knew how to fix stuff in the garage professionally,” reflects Golden West College Automotive Tech grad Thomas Nguyen on his first day as a professional automotive tech. “The training at the Golden West was [that] good.”

Nguyen’s success story is one of many in the GWC Automotive Tech program, from which 70 percent of graduates get jobs in the field, according to Strong Workforce Program research. According to Executive Dean of Business and Career Education Christopher Whiteside, these stories are spreading the word about the program, and pushing GWC’s automotive classes to capacity.

“Our Automotive program has just gone gangbusters!” says Whiteside.

It’s no wonder that Automotive Tech is a top choice for students. The department at GWC won the 2018 Strong Workforce Bronze Star for revving up paychecks, with the accolade noting a 55 percent average increase in earnings among alumni. And thanks to the program’s robust partnerships with dealerships and new free classes, students are accelerating their career paths faster than ever.

The recently launched Honda PACT (Professional Automotive Career Training)  program, for example, offers certified courses to put grads on the fast track to high-paying positions with Honda and Acura dealerships.

“Honda is one of the leaders in our region, and we are one of the few Honda training centers in the area,” explains Whiteside. “A lot of the students are targeted to enter into a Honda facility or are already working for Honda and gaining those modules.”

The driving forces behind the new Honda PACT accreditation were dedicated faculty members John Kasabian and Mike Russell. Previously, GWC offered just one PACT class, certifying students in “express service,” encompassing lube, oil changes, and tire rotation. But Kasabian and Russell were determined to get the complete Honda PACT module into the school, in order to catapult students into higher-skilled, higher-paying positions.

Now, students enjoy the same training that Honda technicians would receive while working at a dealership. The difference? GWC students get the courses done faster.

“The benefit of PACT is that we’re doing the training continuously for two years,” says Russell. “If they were at a dealership, they would have to go to training a week at a time.”

That expediency is key to advancing automotive tech careers. With the complete Honda Master Technician Program at Honda taking 15 weeks to complete, Russell says, some technicians take years to obtain the required access to Master Technician training centers.

Instead, GWC puts students in the fast lane to success with résumé-boosting Honda Technician Certification.

“We’ll do about 65 to 75 percent of the training that the Honda Technicians would do in our program,” Russell explains. That leaves only about three weeks of training once students are at the dealership, making the higher certification easier to obtain. And to top it off, the PACT program includes 600 paid hours at a dealership, where students can network and build their careers.

The Honda PACT program is just the beginning of the new opportunities at GWC. The Automotive Technology department recently rolled out another new partnership with Subaru, which gave the college a brand-new Forester SUV, along with a corresponding scan tool. 

“That’s easily $100,000 worth of equipment,” says Whiteside, who notes the benefit of state-of-the-art equipment when teaching students the cutting-edge skills they need to advance their careers.

As part of the partnership, Subaru also grants the college permission to use its modules in the general program. According to Russell, the “nice thing is that students get Subaru credit.” So, if students go on to work for a Subaru dealer, they’ll already have credit under their belts, even though they didn’t receive the training at the dealership.

On top of these exciting new partnerships, the department is also ramping up accessibility with tuition-free, noncredit offerings through its Automotive Service Technician program. The pilot program debuted last summer to great success, and is set to launch again this fall.

“The students get everything for free…and they still learn the skills,” says Russell. “I think it’s a great opportunity for people who are trying to transition into a different career.”

The noncredit program is comprised of three accelerated classes, allowing students to gain valuable skills quickly. One class teaches automotive equipment safety, including operation of the hoist and tire machines, as well as techniques for handling hazardous waste. Another focuses on wheel and tire maintenance, teaching students to remove and install tires, repair flats, and balance tires and wheels.

Not only do these courses set the groundwork for the accredited automotive degrees and certificates, but students also gain marketable skills they can use right away.

“It gives people job skills to go out and work at a Jiffy Lube or a dealer doing the lube rack or tire change,” says Whiteside.

Currently, GWC is developing plans to expand the free, noncredit offerings to include a smog class, which will give students yet another practical skill. “We think that one’s going to be really successful,” says Russell. “There’s a lot of demand for it.”

For Whiteside, the bottom line is getting students into jobs as soon as possible. The key, he says, is hands-on classes featuring shop-relevant training.

“If you look at proprietary automotive schools, we offer the exact same programs,” he says.

For many employers in the automotive technology industry, Golden West College has become synonymous with confident, knowledgeable employees.

“What I found over the years is that they have a really good quality of not just students, but people,” says Cory Smith, Service Director at Weir Canyon Honda and Acura.

“I’ve tried other types of companies that do training, but to me, the Golden West package that I get is much better.”