Auto Tech program trains mechanics for high-tech field

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Photo: Nick Rogers

Career Tech teacher Ben Patten instructs his junior Automotives class on balancing tire weight.

If you walk far enough down the long Career Tech hallway at Fairmont, you might start to hear some sounds that aren’t typical in a high school classroom. In the Auto Tech room, the sounds of pneumatic tools and clanking wrenches fill the air.

The Career Tech Center has many programs that revolve around specialized training in various fields. One of these programs is Automotive Tech Prep, where students learn to work on cars.

Auto Tech is taught differently than many other classes. “This class is not like your average class,” said Auto Tech teacher Scott Beirise, who has taught Auto Tech at Fairmont for 11 years. “Most classes are strictly high-tech or strictly hands-on or sitting in a classroom. But this class has a balance of the three.”

Auto Tech is a two-year course taken junior and senior year. In Auto Tech, students spend time in the classroom learning about vehicles, then take their knowledge and apply it in the garage.

“We work on donated cars that vary between domestic and import. The donations usually come from Sinclair Community College or dealerships; however, we won’t take junkyard cars, because the cars must run,” said Ben Patten, an Auto Tech teacher who just started teaching at Fairmont this year. Along with the donated cars, students may bring in their own cars to work on in the garage during class as well.

Beirise said he thinks most people don’t fully appreciate how complex auto technology is in the 21st century. “This field is misunderstood by a lot of people. Most modern cars have at least 30 on-board computers,” said Beirise. He said he feels more people should get into the auto-repair field. “They don’t realize how high-tech this field really is.”

This field is misunderstood by a lot of people. Most modern cars have at least 30 on-board computers.”

— Scott Beirise

Beyond working in the garage, students also can get a co-op, allowing them to get a job with a dealership to get work experience and a paycheck while still attending high school.

Through the program’s connection with Sinclair, Auto Tech students also get multiple chances to earn college credit.

“Dealership Principle Classic is a four-day class taken at Sinclair senior year, and with completion, Sinclair will articulate 3 credits to the student,” said Beirise. “Students can also obtain credit through the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation.” The NATEF test contains five sections, each with 50 questions. With each passed section, Sinclair will articulate college credit.

After high school, Auto Tech students can pursue many opportunities to continue their learning, whether it is going to Sinclair or another college or going straight into the workforce. “Most kids will take their experience here and go to Sinclair with a Tech Prep scholarship, which is great because Sinclair is one of the top auto schools in the nation,” said Patten.

Fairmont senior Chris Allen is in his second year of the program, and he plans to pursue a career in Auto Tech after graduation. “I grew up around cars and always knew that was what I wanted to do for a career ever since I was a kid,” said Allen.

Beirise said the prospect for employment is good. “With Auto Tech, there will always be a need for jobs. And when the economy is bad, people generally tend to hold onto their cars longer, and the longer they hold onto the cars, the more they need to be repaired,” he said.

With the current trend, jobs are becoming more plentiful for the people trained in this field. “If you’re qualified as a mechanic, you can get a job pretty much anywhere,” said Patten.

Allen is glad he took advantage of the Auto Tech program. “I definitely recommend this class for someone who enjoys working on vehicles,” he said. “Even if you don’t necessarily plan on making a career out of the class, you’ll still gain skills that can save you hundreds of dollars in the long run without needing to pay someone else to fix your car.”