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New pre-apprentice model paves way for auto tech jobs

West Seneca West senior Trent Golab removes a headlight from a vehicle during his paid summer internship at West Herr Auto Group.West Seneca West student Trent Golab spent a good portion of his summer with West Herr Auto Group working on cars.

The senior found himself in the thick of things, replacing bumpers, taking off fenders, doing bodywork, prepping cars for paint and helping around the collision shop. That work made up his summer internship, part of a pre-apprentice model for Erie 1 BOCES’ revamped Auto Technician Training and Collision Repair programs.

“If you enjoy working on cars and fixing them, then this wouldn’t really be a job at all; it would just be a fun experience and a fun little break in your summer,” Golab stated.

The internship experience is one facet of the new pre-apprentice model, which has formed collaborative partnerships between Erie 1 BOCES’ Career and Technical Education division and a number of outside businesses and groups.

A student begins following the model in 10th grade, when he or she shadows at a participating collision shop or dealership service department in the spring. In 11th grade, the student takes part in two one-week job shadow experiences and a subsequent paid summer internship if they so choose.

The shadowing time increases to two three- week experiences during the student’s senior year – one in the fall and one in the spring. This all leads to a guaranteed job interview for applicable openings and additional opportunities.

“The pre-apprentice partnership gives students real-life experience in a local shop, and we’re pushing relationships with the dealerships, master technicians and owners,” explained Jeffrey Sikora, principal at the Kenton Career & Technical Center. “It gets them in the building meeting people. It allows them to go straight to the workplace and gain valuable insight into the trade; they can dive right in.”

Jay Galligan, director of fixed operations at West Herr Automotive Group, noted the pre-apprentice model benefits everyone involved. Galligan understands how crucial a trained workforce is for the future; many of the technicians in the West Herr group are approaching retirement age, with more than 15 percent of them over the age of 55.

“We have a shortage of skilled workers in our industry. More and more cars are being put on the road with more advanced technology, such as autonomous vehicles and Smart Stop Technology,” he pointed out. “We need qualified people to fix them, so our technicians are filling a critical niche.”

Galligan added it is more difficult to take a car apart now and put it back together due to the sheer amount of sensors and technology in a typical vehicle, so technicians need even more training to carry out their tasks.

“We look to see what the student brings to our company while they test drive the shop and see if this is something they want to do for a living,” Galligan summarized. “We need to get people into that pipeline, which is exactly what this pre-apprentice model does. It gives us and the students a head start to jump into a career.”

The list of partners in the model consists of many heavy hitters, including:
• Auto Collision & Glass
• Carubba Collision
• Collision Masters
• Gabe’s Collision
• Joe Basil Chevrolet and Basil Family Dealerships
• Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association
• Northeast Collision
• Northtown Automotive Companies
• Paddock Chevrolet
• The Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR)
• Towne Automotive
• West Herr

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