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Why These Regional Schools Added Quick Lube Courses

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Like most vo-tech schools, the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) has graduated automotive repair technicians for years.

The need is there. At a 6 percent growth rate, the United States is projected to need nearly 46,000 more of them by 2026, according to federal government data.

While educating future ASE techs was great, there was still a piece missing, says Steve Herro, an associate dean at MATC. Industry advisors told the school that students needed a more solid foundation of the skills found in a quick lube technician.

“They're not line techs in two semesters,” Herro says, paraphrasing what industry advisors told them. “We need you to train them so that when they get to us, we can put them on the express lube rack and they can be skilled enough to go right away. Because that's where they're going to start out.”

So, the technical school created and launched a focused Automotive Express Lube Technician course offering. And by offering the option to take it as a standalone certificate, it’s also a pipeline into a quick lube career. 

Few schools in the country have specific lube tech courses like this.

There’s a market need there, too. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 11 percent growth rate for automotive and watercraft service attendants, which is the category for those who perform oil changes and related services.

The BLS entry notes what a lot of shop operators experience: entry-level lube techs typically come into a job without experience. And on top of that, some of the most valuable training happens in the shop. But some schools—and students— are finding value in learning those basic skill sets in a formal setting before that first job interview happens.

In turn, those programs create opportunities for operators to hire the very best people to put in their shops from day one.

 

The Missing Piece

Herro is the project manager for RevUp, a grant-funded program aimed at getting more people into automotive service careers, particularly within urban communities.

Students at MATC can enter one- or  two-year programs for different degrees and diplomas.

A few years ago, in addition to hearing from industry advisors, Herro says that they also knew that students were either already working or eager to get working. The Express Lube Technician course was developed to fill out a skill set that wasn’t always there.

“Our industry was saying, ‘I’ve got to train them how to be a lube maintenance tech,’” Herro says.

The 10-credit certificate course includes training in quick lube, as well as steering, brake and suspension systems. Students who finish can take the certificate to the job market or apply it toward an automotive diploma or degree.

Herro says that it’s also a good place to help train well-rounded customer service techs.

“It’s customer-focused. And it’s process-focused,” he says. “And the goal is to make sure that these students are not just changing oil. They're actually understanding that they need to do a full multi-point inspection and have it to the service advisor in 20 minutes.”

MATC’s automotive program is getting ready to move into a renovated space at the school’s downtown Milwaukee campus. Part of the grant program, the building will be called the Al Hurvis-Peak Transportation Center.

Support for the building, as well as the funding for RevUp, come from a big player in the auto industry. Old World Industries Chairman Tom Hurvis put up the grant, which started with a $1 million investment and can be matched up to $3 million. Old World is the parent company of Peak automotive brand.

Herro says they hope to begin classes there in the fall.

“We should be training the entry-level job so that they can make money,” he says. “And not work minimum wage.”

 

Starting Early

Of the quick lube education courses that are available, most are probably found in post-secondary or adult education programs.

High school auto classes have declined across the country, and that’s been a trend for decades. Fewer than half of schools in California, for example, offer automotive classes, according to EdSource and the California Department of Education. And enrollment is shrinking in those classes.

The programs that remain are capitalizing on a trend of renewed emphasis in vocational tech educations.

That’s apparent in places like Bennington, Vt. The small town is home to the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center, where Tom Haskins has been an automotive instructor for 27 years.

Haskins teaches auto shop to mostly high school juniors and seniors. Like Herro in Wisconsin, Haskins heard about students entering the workforce without a critical piece of training.

“It’s useful no matter what direction they go into,” Haskins says. “I’ve heard from the dealers that they hire a new employee, and they don't know how to do a proper oil and filter and they skip some steps.”

A few years ago at an industry conference, Haskins heard about a quick lube education course through the Automotive Oil Change Association (AOCA). He says he looked into it a bit and thought it would be a good addition to his Automotive Technology program.

Students are trained in quick lube skills as part of the second year of the program. After that, they can take a test to be certified by the AOCA. Haskins says that students have responded well to the addition.

It incorporates oil and filter training with some of the more intangible aspects of the job. Haskins says that’s what makes it a valuable course.

“Some of the customer service, and some of the details that go with the job that are sometimes overlooked,” he says. “Everything from dress and appearance to following through with customers.”

Part of the quick lube course is training in a local shop. Haskins says the school partnered with the local Havoline Xpress Lube to do that. Two at a time, students spend a week shadowing technicians at the quick lube shop.

Haskins says that’s a critical part of the course, and it’s been fruitful for some. The shop has hired multiple students from Haskins’ course.

“They could end up with a job,” he says. “Or if they have a question, it’s an easy place to go.”

Tom Camp, the shop manager and the resident ASE-certified technician at the Xpress Lube, says that the students come in with a good baseline skillset from the course. From there, he takes them through the shop-specific training, working in the bays and with customers.

Because these are high school-aged students, Camp says that they’re often looking for short-term work over a summer or during some time before leaving for college. It’s an excellent conduit for seasonal workers with some training, and the students get a little more pay in exchange.

“I can hire them on with experience, so I can pay them more than minimum wage,” Camp says.

 

The Takeaway

The refrain from the industry in recent years has been that it’s difficult to find qualified applicants in a time of low unemployment. But that makes qualified employment no less important.

Check to see if the local high school, vo-tech school or adult education center has quick lube-specific programs. The AOCA’s courses run at schools and organizations in Oklahoma, Illinois, New York, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Kentucky and Pennsylvania in addition to the one Haskins teaches in Vermont.

The aim of those and other quick lube-specific programs is to get future techs ready to work on day one.

“They’re taught to actually do the job,” Herro says. “Not just, ‘Here are some of the things you might need when you get the job.’”

In addition to improving your daily operation, more qualified applicants may be primed to take on management roles eventually in an existing or additional location.

“You don't know where the students will end up,” Haskins says. “It could be a stepping stone for some students and it could be a career path for other students.”

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