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CATA's AYES efforts gain momentum with new area Manager

November 24, 2010

Jim Butcher embarked last week as the Automotive Youth Educational Systems manager for the Chicago area. The position is funded in part by the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, where Butcher can be reached at 630-424-6020. The AYES program builds partnerships between dealerships and high schools with automotive service technology curricula.

The mission is to create a pipeline of future technicians. Butcher's initial directive is to enlist more area dealerships in the program. Just half of the 60 AYES students at four local high schools were placed for yearlong student technician internships that began last month. The 25 area new-car dealerships that take part in AYES rate the program highly, said Butcher. His challenge is to educate more dealers about the program's benefits.

Butcher spent the last 11 years as an instructor at the Technology Center of DuPage, a technician magnet school in Addison and one of the five AYES high schools in the area the CATA serves. He previously worked five years as an automotive technician. "I think Jim's a perfect fit for the connections we need this role to make," said Terry D'Arcy, a CATA director who interviewed candidates for the position. "He has a thorough understanding, having worked in every area-at a technical school and as a technician at a dealership." D'Arcy said: "Many dealers have no idea how to cultivate new technicians. With AYES, it's just a matter of educating dealers. And with the average age of the area's technicians, hundreds will be retiring in the next five to eight years."

Since AYES debuted locally in 1999, Butcher said the program "is moving forward, but it's been at the expense of the (high school) instructors. They've had to make the dealership visits, which takes them out of class, and the visits really are for an AYES manager." AYES representatives match schools and dealerships to develop on-the-job experiences and mentor relationships with journeymen technicians. The AYES program is important because 25 percent of 18-year-olds say they already have selected a career path. Exposing the interns to dealership work could sway them to a career there.

That exposure, D'Arcy added, can keep the interns from being lured to quick-service lube shops and other competitors. The other AYES high schools participating locally are Lake County High School in Grayslake; Curie Metropolitan High School and Farragut Career Academy, both in Chicago; and Hammond (Ind.) Career Center. The National Automobile Dealers Association provided a start-up grant to help defray Butcher's salary, and the CATA is seeking future funding from the Illinois Board of Education.