New program set for CNCC

Automotive mechanic classes designed to reduce technician shortage

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— A good, local automotive technician is hard to come by these days.

Just ask Steve Maneotis, Victory Motors of Craig co-owner.

"I've been trying to hire three mechanics over the past 90 days," he said.

So far, no luck.

He's not the only one having trouble. At a recent meeting with Colorado Northwestern Community College officials, local auto mechanic administrators expressed concerns for their workforce - a workforce they say is dwindling, regionally and nationally.

The college held a Nov. 27 meeting to gauge interest in a new automotive and diesel technology program scheduled to begin next fall.

The program may help retain a local workforce that would otherwise seek training elsewhere, Winters said.

Students desiring to become trained mechanics often leave the area to attend technical institutions like WyoTech, reducing the local workforce.

To curb the loss, CNCC intends to offer its program at a cost "significantly less" than surrounding colleges, which can charge as much as $30,000, Winters said.

The program was designed to meet a local demand for automotive mechanics.

"We're answering a community need," he said.

The news of a local training program was a welcomed announcement to Cook Chevrolet service center manager Joe Bird, who attended the meeting.

In his opinion, an auto mechanic's job requires physical exertion, making it more of a "young person's job."

But many technicians Bird retains are older. Younger workers are going elsewhere, including energy and technology industries.

A training program that would train a local younger workforce "would be a win-win (situation) for every repair shop in Craig," he said.

Bird has worked at Cook Chevrolet for four years. During that time, he's tried to hire locally trained technicians.

He has yet to find one. He's had to hire out-of-state help instead.

Bringing workers into Craig has its pitfalls, Maneotis said.

"It's a tough move," he said. "People are used to the metro area, and they come to Craig - they don't like it."

In his opinion, a local mechanic training program would provide a workforce that is less likely to leave.

"What CNCC is offering is a great opportunity to develop mechanical skills," he said. "It's going to give us a local field to pull from."

For him, creating that field is beneficial, considering the workforce appears to be shrinking.

The reason?

"I wish I had an answer for that," Maneotis said. "I really don't."

Craig Ford-Mercury owner Jerry Thompson suggested wide spread misperception may be causing the loss.

The image of a mechanic "eking out a living" may predominate in the public image, he said, adding, "It's just not this way anymore."

A trained mechanic starting out can usually make approximately $14 per hour, he said. The pay can rise in proportion with additional training.

And training is "vital," said J.B. Chapman, co-owner of Chapman's Automotive.

"The automotive industry is no longer an industry of greasy-knuckled mechanics," he said. "We need the top 10 percent of graduating classes. We need problem-solvers."

Although Chapman's business is independently owned, he still experiences the automotive technician shortages his competition does.

"I'm just excited that CNCC (has) seen that need," he said, adding that the new classes could become "a significant program" for the college.

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