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Shifting Gears

Free college tuition for future automotive workforce 

The automotive industry needs qualified workers. Ed Shaffer, service manager for West Herr Subaru and an Erie 1 BOCES alumnus, provides a tour of the dealership to incoming students and their parents. During the visit, he explained the industry’s need for skilled labor and how local businesses are committed to partnering with education.As a result, businesses, educators and New York State officials have merged efforts to help close the skills gap in automotive technology and collision repair.

High school freshmen from four local school districts may enroll in a grant-funded program that will provide an all-tuition-paid associate degree from SUNY Erie Community College. The New York State Pathways in Technology (NYS P-TECH) program is a public-private partnership that prepares New York students for future high-skills jobs in technology, manufacturing, healthcare and finance. Recently, a $3 million NYS P-TECH grant was awarded to a Western New York (WNY) consortium organized by Erie 1 BOCES. Lackawanna City School District will be the lead educational agency for this grant that will also extend to West Seneca, Frontier and Hamburg. Students from these four school districts will attend classes at Erie 1 BOCES and SUNY Erie from grade 9 through grade 14.

It is projected that more than 200 students will participate in this effort from 2018-2023, which is when the grant ends.

“This is a school within a school model that merges high school, college and work-based learning,” said Anedda Trautman, associate director of career and technical education for Erie 1 BOCES. “The rubber truly hits the road when the businesses provide mentoring and support; their involvement helps the teens see how their academics and skills are relevant to the workforce.”

Ten businesses are currently involved in the program, including Basil Family Dealerships, Gabe’s Collision, Auto Collison & Glass, Carubba Collision, West Herr Automotive Group, Northeast Collision, Northtown Automotive Companies, Towne Automotive Group, Fisher Auto Parts and the Niagara Frontier Automotive Dealers Association – representing all the automotive dealerships in WNY. According to the grant’s directions, the list of business partners may continue to grow. However, the four school districts are set in stone.

“This provides a pipeline for skilled workers that we would not have otherwise,” said Paul Stasiak, president of Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association.

Initially, the students will spend their time at Erie 1 BOCES Potter Career & Technical Center, where they will receive core academics and automotive skills training. Students may begin taking college courses as early as ninth grade; however, they must begin their college courses by 10th grade.

“Students who complete our program graduate with an associate degree and the training that is necessary to receive industry-recognized certifications,” said Joseph Uhrich, department chair for SUNY Erie’s Automotive Technology program.

Middle school counselors are currently meeting with families of eighth-grade students who meet the enrollment requirements. The four school districts are tasked with providing 35 interested, eligible and committed teens to start in September 2018. This matching process is extremely important because if a student drops out anywhere within the six-year process, their seat cannot be replaced with another student.

“This is our second NYS P-TECH grant; we’ve been using a similar model with the healthcare industry,” Trautman said. “This initiative would not have been possible without the leadership and commitment of our participating school districts.”

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