George Haddad, the owner Haddad Toyota and the Haddad Family of Car Dealerships, needed more qualified auto technicians but was having a difficult time finding enough of them. There is a nationwide shortage of auto techs and there would not be enough new college graduates with a Toyota certification.
About 40 new expert-level Toyota technicians graduate from colleges in the New England region each year. That is not enough to fulfill the need of the 71 Toyota dealerships across the region. Haddad Toyota was no exception.
As George considered his options, he thought about the untapped market of students that might not want to go to college but could become technicians if properly trained. Would it be possible to graduate high school students as certified technicians?
“When I look at the people who work in my dealerships, I see that most of them use their hands, most of them use their heads, and most of them have never gone to college,” George said. “What it’s all about is taking people who have the attribute of using their head and their hands to fix things and giving them what they need to be successful.”
The new $121 million Pittsfield Taconic High School, which was under construction at the time, provided the opportunity. The school’s automotive technology program already was planning to have state-of-the-art equipment. Much of it was the same equipment Haddad Toyota had in its facility.
“We have the luxury of a brand new building. There is no better equipped high school in the Commonwealth, probably in all of New England,” said Dr. Jason “Jake” McCandless, superintendent of Pittsfield Public Schools. “We didn’t even have to buy new computers for the shop.”
With this in mind, George approached Toyota’s regional office in Boston with his idea to bring Toyota certification e-learning modules with testing to form the curriculum of the program. Pittsfield would create the first-in-the-nation high school program to certify Toyota techs.
“Nowhere else in the country will a high school student graduate as a certified tech,” George said. “Once they graduate, they will be able to show their card anywhere in the country and get a job. It could be at Toyota or any of the other brands. Of course, we will want some of them to come to work for us.”
For students, it changes the nature of going to high school. They can see a career path to a well-paying future.
“It’s really important that teenagers see tangible evidence of why we are asking you to do certain things over these 1400 or so days that constitute high school,” said Superintendent McCandless. “And when we have the tangible evidence of having a local Toyota dealer who is offering potential employment locally and also the promise of potential employment across the county, it is a no-brainer for us.”
Being in a certified program also brings pride to the student and means he or she is more likely to graduate.
“When I walk in and see the kids in the program, they shake my hand. They’re excited. Their chests are puffed out with pride. They are somebody. They are not just a vocational student. They are on a path,” said George Haddad. “I think we are going to funnel kids to car dealership automotive instead of the backyard automotive they might have been before. It’s a great career in which a high school graduate can make a lot of money. My highest paid guys make well over $100,000 a year.”
“I’ve been watching for 15 to 20 years as high schools tell everyone that they have to go to college to have hope. It simply is not true. Some families are not in the position to absorb the debt that college is likely to incur. This can be a path to a great career,” said Dr. McCandless.
Toyota donated access to Toyota’s interactive e-learning modules and trained the Pittsfield Taconic High School instructors on the training methodologies used by Toyota. Toyota also donated two new Camry engines so that the students can work on modern cars that incorporate the latest technology found in Toyota products and the e-learning modules.
Students, with the permission of their parents, will also visit the Toyota training site in Mansfield, Massachusetts where Haddad’s techs go for training. They will meet with Toyota executives and see what training is in a Toyota facility. They will get some training that day as well.
“Our lone concern with this was what would the car dealerships of other brands say. We organized a meeting with them early in the process. They said, hey, we’re thrilled. We need trained mechanics, too,” said Dr. McCandless.
The Pittsfield program will now serve as a pilot, which is being watched closely by Toyota’s USA headquarters.
“Eventually, this will go nationwide,” said David Fontanella, customer services operations manager for the Toyota Boston region. “But the innovation came from Pittsfield.”
Superintendent McCandless believes that this can also be a pilot for other partnerships with private companies to deliver a trained workforce that meets their needs. He called it a “win-win” for business and the students.
“We would love to see this happen with every single vocational shop we operate. We would love somebody in the community to step in and step up to say I want you students to know that I am in word and deed supporting the work that you are doing for my own good but, more importantly, for your own good,” said Dr. McCandless.
– by Roger Matus