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Regional Auto Tech Partnership Helps Industry and Students Succeed Feature Story
Orange County’s $14 billion-dollar automobile industry is one of the largest in the country, outselling and out-servicing 24 entire states—of that, just over $100 million dollars goes back to Orange County cities in the form of sales tax. Despite the economic opportunities created by this success, an ongoing workforce shortage has become an industry bottleneck. To solve this, the Orange County Automobile Dealers Association (OCADA), and its nonprofit arm, OC Driven for Success, have partnered with the region’s community colleges to help support and build a workforce pipeline that will give students great paying careers and dealers the well-trained workforce they need to grow and thrive well into the future.
“Orange County’s community colleges are a great choice for students; colleges are local and offer the highest return on investment for both the students’ time and money. The automotive technology college professors are experienced industry professionals and master technicians,” says Kim McPhaul, Deputy Executive Director of OCADA . “Partnering with them just made sense for everyone.”
Why would a student want to work at a dealership? As McPhaul explains, dealerships are a great place to work because they not only provide stable jobs and great salaries, but also because they provide training which is essential with the rapidly changing automobile technoloy. After graduation, new hires typically enter some sort of trainee program which gives them the chance to work and learn side-by-side with experienced technicians.
As technicians continue their career development, dealerships offer paid training to become an expert on their brand. In as little as two to four years, techs can be earning upwards of $60,000 a year, while six-figure salaries are possible within five to six.
“As a 19 or 20-year-old who has completed a certificate at a community college, these are pretty amazing salaries that techs can be earning by their mid-20s,” says McPhaul.
For 80 years, OCADA has represented the region’s 120 competitive franchised dealerships and through its nonprofit arm OC Driven for Success, has dedicated itself to developing the highly-skilled automotive technicians the industry needs to thrive.
Although regional dealerships are highly competitive, they all share similar problems—the biggest of which being the shortage of automotive technicians. Because of this, industry leaders are united in their efforts to support their future workforce.
Between 2016 and 2021, it was estimated that over 1800 automotive technology jobs would become available for an average of about 360 new job openings per year. At the same time, industry exit rates are substantial.
“We have over 12,000 team members at dealerships across 19 cities in Orange County. Technicians are the lifeblood of our Service Departments,” says John Oh, Lexus of Westminster Dealer and OC Driven for Success Chairman. “Through annual retirement, we lose about 750 technicians and about half of those positions go unfilled. Attracting new talent is more challenging now than ever before.”
To address this need, OCADA established a nonprofit arm, OC Driven for Success, to provide outreach, support, scholarships, internships and training opportunities for high-tech careers in the automotive industry. OC Driven for Success’s efforts support students at all five of Orange County’s community college automotive technology programs and fall into three main categories: creating career awareness, supporting job readiness, and connecting prospects to careers.
Over the past 5 years, OC Driven for Success has connected over 400 students with scholarships who have gone on to earn degrees and certificates in automotive technology. But scholarships are just the tip of the iceberg.
As part of its goal to create awareness, the OC Driven for Success sponsors an annual high school auto technology competition. To help students prepare, Orange County’s community colleges host workshops where high school students are taught on campus giving students an opportunity to learn from experienced professionals. McPhaul credits part of the success of the competition to regional community college faculty who not only teach students but also volunteer to judge the competition. This year, a Cypress college instructor created a hands-on brake test that required participants to disassemble and reassemble it as part of the competition.
“For students who are gifted with an amazing mechanical aptitude, this is their time to shine,” says McPhaul.
Each year, Orange County automobile manufacturers host the annual competition, where students will compete in multiple rounds of technical and mechanical auto technology challenges. At the end of the competition, over $20,000 in scholarships to OC Community Colleges and prizes are awarded to finalists. Last year, the winner received a Snap-On tool set valued at $3200.
To encourage students to pursue further education in the field, OC Driven for Success provides annual scholarships to auto tech programs at Santa Ana College, Saddleback College, Golden West College, Fullerton College, and Cypress College.
Although California’s community colleges offer the lowest tuition rates in the country (and the California Promise program makes tuition free for first-time, recent high school graduates), attending college can still be a challenge for many students due to the high costs of housing, basic needs, books, parking, and other fees. With this in mind, OC Driven for Success scholarships are meant to offset extra expenses and give regional auto tech students the best chance for success.
Every year in April, interested students can complete a simple 15-minute scholarship application, about why they are interested in a career in automotive technology. Dealerships are eager to offer support to applicants seeking to become automotive technicians, and almost all applicants receive an award.
But OC Driven for Success’s efforts don’t stop there. After building awareness and supporting the education of new technicians, OC Driven for Success “brings students home” by connecting them to careers at local dealerships around Orange County through career fairs and networking events.
“We partner with community college automotive faculty and deans to host career fairs in the auto shops on campus and invite our members to attend an evening event with automotive technology students,” says Kim. “It’s a win-win for students who are looking for jobs and employers who are looking for technicians.”
Students register online and complete a questionnaire. On the day of the event, they receive business cards and a name tag to make it easier to network with potential employers. Community college alumni who work at the dealerships are also invited and encouraged to share their success stories.
“This opportunity gives students a chance to ask, ‘If I decide to attend an Auto Tech program, where is this going to take me?’ with real dealers and techs from the industry providing examples of their paths to success,” says Kim.
To make it even more fun, dealerships often provide rare, high-end vehicles for students to explore. Recent vehicles have included the Ford GT supercar, Maybachs, Toyota hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and other eye-candy.
McPhaul is proud of the way OC Driven for Success and regional community colleges are working together and is looking forward to developing new programs to further their success such as a mentorship program that introduces more students to worksites, provides tours of Orange County dealerships, and gives students a chance to job shadow technicians at work.
“It feels really good when I walk through the dealership service department and I see students I remember from high school competitions and college events, who have followed the path and are now working in the field and enjoying their career,” says Kim. “It really is a win-win!”
For more information on opportunities through OCADA’s OC Driven for Success please visit https://ocdrivenforsuccess.org/.