Automotive program provides knowledge, hands-on experience

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Jon Hausen became interested in a career in the automotive field a long time ago, when he was a kid working on cars with his dad. When he got to Faribault High School, he took every class available in the automotive department. By the time he graduated in 2018, he was armed with the knowledge and experience he needed to pursue a career in the field.

As a senior, Hausen started an internship through the FHS automotive department at R.C. Bliss Ford in Faribault. He’s still working there while he takes classes at Dakota County Technical College in pursuit of an Associate of Applied Science Automotive Technology degree.

“Some of the stuff we started to cover in college, I was three steps ahead. I was able to breeze through it and help other people out,” Hausen said. “I got a lot of hands-on training during high school that you won’t get just sitting behind a desk.”

Knowledge and hands-on experience are the two main things Faribault High School automotive technology teacher Kevin Paukert hopes students take away from his classes. It helps that they have access to some state-of-the-art equipment, including an alignment machine that uses cameras, hydraulic lifts, and diagnostics scanning tools. The program is accredited by the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Education Foundation, which requires all equipment be up to date and meet industry standards.

Students also have a variety of vehicles to work on. Fords, GMs, Chryslers, Volkswagens, Hondas and Toyotas are lent to the program for educational purposes.

“Our shop is outfitted just about as well as any automotive outfit in town,” Paukert said. “Students should be very familiar with any equipment needed for an entry-level position. Most of what we have here is the same as they would see in the industry.”

Students can get their start in the automotive department by taking a one-semester elective, intro to auto. Auto 1 is the next step and covers primarily electrical components for one semester. In Auto 2, students start to learn the skills they would need to start working in a shop: how to change belts, how to change oil, how make basic brake repairs, and how to rotate tires.

Students who compete those three courses can take Auto Services as juniors. The two-hour block course covers steering and suspensions, engine repair, engine performance and more advanced brake and electrical work. Paukert said the goal for this course is for students to be able to pass the tests necessary to receive several different ASE certifications.

All these classes can be used toward college credit in South Central College’s automotive program in Mankato and several other colleges – if the student earns a B average and gets a recommendation from Paukert.

Once a student completes Auto Services, they’re eligible to receive credits through a paid internship during their senior year. During the first semester, one student worked at Harry Brown’s Family Automotive and another at Mike’s Garage.

“It’s a good feeling. I like to see them grow to where there’s a lot less instruction from me, less guidance, when they have issues they’re trying to tackle,” Paukert said. “With automotive technology, things are constantly changing, so you can’t always teach them how to solve something. But you can teach them how to find the information they need to solve the problem themselves.”

Paukert said the automotive program isn’t just for students who want to work in a shop. Students interested in careers in sales, or as service advisors or service writers, would all benefit from a better technical understanding of how vehicles work.

“Coming through the automotive program doesn’t definitely mean they’re going to be a technician. There are a lot of other jobs in the industry where you need the knowledge,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to get to try it out in a high school setting before they’re really committed to it and see if it’s something they’re interested in.”

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