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Dealers use AYES to groom student technicians

November 24, 2010

A simple understanding of AYES, the student technician program blossoming nationwide, is the biggest obstacle Jim Butcher faces when he talks to dealers about participating in the program. Upon understanding, a dealer's participation is likely, because AYES poses virtually no downside to a dealer. Automotive Youth Educational Systems builds partnerships between dealerships and high schools with automotive service technology curricula.

The mission is to create a pipeline of future technicians. AYES sprouted in Illinois in 2001. Since then, 72 students at four area high schools have been paired with 69 participating dealerships. "That's just the tip of the iceberg," said Butcher, the AYES state field manager for Illinois. AYES, supported by nearly every vehicle manufacturer, exists to replenish technicians. The endeavor is vital; retirees from the field outnumber newcomers by 2,000 every year. The program provides a reliable and qualified source of entry-level technicians.

The success of AYES is due in part to strong support from the U.S. Departments of Labor, Commerce and Education. The AYES model is quickly becoming the Labor Department's model for manufacturer-sponsored initiatives, to be emulated by other industries. Since assuming his new position in July, Butcher has visited many dealers to review AYES. He also speaks at manufacturer roundtables with service managers and technicians, and he will attempt to involve more schools in AYES by attending an October meeting of the Illinois College of Automotive Instructors Association.

"Some dealers consider AYES to be nothing more than another 'manufacturer initiative,' which they see right and left. But this is a manufacturersponsored initiative. They're paying for it. It's not a fly-by-night. It's going to be around, and it works," Butcher said. Manufacturers contribute millions of dollars a year to fund AYES, and payback for them means their vehicles get serviced properly. In fact, all AYES participants benefit. Dealers get an $8 an hour student technician who they can grow in their own programs. Mentor technicians earn the student's book hours, which in the summer months can approach 30 hours a week.

Participating schools get new vehicles and repair manuals free from manufacturers, for student instruction. And the student technicians get to apply their classroom instruction in a workplace setting, accelerating their professional growth. The Automobile Mechanics Local 701 also supports AYES. Butcher said about half the student technicians work at unionized dealerships. Jack Smith, chairman of General Motors, developed the precursor to AYES in 1996.

Smith said, "What we want the future to be is this: When a bright student with the right aptitude and a good work attitude comes in, the school counselor will say to him or her, 'Have you thought of an automotive career?' " Butcher can be reached at the CATA at 630-424-6020.