Fifteen Years of Progress for
The National Automotive Technician Education Foundation
By: Byrl R. Shoemaker, Ph.D., NATEF Consultant

My term of membership on the ASE Board and my retirement from the Division of Vocational and Career Education came at the same time, June 30, 1982. Within 30 days I was ready to go back to work at something and my wife was encouraging me to get out of her domain. Then a marvelous thing happened. The ASE Board asked me to visit the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in Atlanta and evaluate a proposed pattern developed for improving the quality of automotive training programs across the nation.

The development of the material for program improvement was motivated by the Industry Planning Council (IPC) of the American Vocational Association. The IPC included equal numbers of representatives from both the automotive industry and instructors or administrators from automotive training programs. In 1978 the IPC determined that automotive training programs needed to be significantly improved in order to provide the entry level technicians needed.

The Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association (MVMA) provided $400,000, over a several year period, to develop the necessary task and equipment lists and evaluation guide to serve as the basis for program improvement. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools did the work under contract to the IPC. Upon completion of the above listed material, the IPC asked ASE to take over the responsibility of administering a program improvement plan.

At the suggestion of then retiring, ASE President, Herb Furman, I was requested to visit the Southern Association and review the material. Glad to be involved in a project which I believed, and still believe, to be important to the industry and education, and glad to get out of the house, I visited the Southern Association and found the evaluation guide, task and equipment lists in excellent order. There was not available, however, any process for evaluation or standards by which to evaluate programs.

Before making any recommendation to the ASE Board, I conducted a brief market study with automotive instructors and administrators over the nation. I determined there was interest in a certification process but the cost needed to be economical, since most school systems did not provide funds for certifications outside of licensed occupations. Appearing before the ASE Board, I recommended the Board accept the opportunity to establish a certification plan for automotive training programs, even though the program would not be self supporting. It was further suggested that all materials become property of the ASE Board.

The ASE Board voted to accept the responsibility for establishing a certification program, using the materials developed by the IPC committee, providing the material owned by MVMA would become the property of ASE.

The MVMA approved the granting of the evaluation material to ASE and subsequently the ASE Board accepted a gift of a 501 (c)-(3) Foundation (the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation, NATEF) from the Automotive Service Association (ASA), that would permit organizations to make tax deductible contributions to NATEF as a means of supporting the certification program. A NATEF Board of Trustees was established to direct the effort to develop a certification program and to accept gifts and grants relating to it. I was employed as a consultant to guide the development of the certification program. The major initial grant to NATEF came from the MVMA itself, along with smaller grants from such organizations as ASA.

The first step, therefore, was to establish minimum standards for certification of automotive programs. The standards I proposed were patterned after the requirements for licensed occupations and one of the key factors in all licensed occupations is a minimum instructional time on tasks for each of the major divisions of an occupation.

The major task in the development of the standards was the establishment of the minimum hours of instruction for each of the eight automobile areas (which paralleled the eight ASE certification test areas for automobile technicians). A committee met in Detroit to review a report that had been developed after a national meeting on quality of automotive training sponsored by Ford Motor Co. The instructional hours were reviewed and adjusted, and recommended for adoption by the ASE Board, along with other standards that have become the basis for program certification.

One of the weak areas of those initial program standards was the provision that any program could receive certification for meeting standards in just one automobile training area. This standard has increased over the years; a program must now meet the standards in four specified areas (Suspension and Steering, Brakes, Electrical/Electronic Systems, and Engine Performance).

From the beginning, the Board directed that any public or private secondary or post-secondary program could be certified, provided that they meet the same standards.

After the standards were developed, the next big task was to establish the plan for reviewing programs for certification.

I estimated there were approximately 2,400 automotive programs across the nation. Direct contact with and promotion for this many programs would be very difficult and costly to accomplish.. The state leadership for vocational education and both independent and dealership automotive service organizations were contacted in each state. The state vocational education leadership could then apply for participation, if the automotive service organizations indicated their support.

The states with strong state leadership were the first to apply for participation in the certification program. All fifty states now participated in the certification program. The first ASE certified programs in the nation were in Tri-County Joint Vocational Center, Nelsonville, Ohio; Sheridan Vocational Center, Hollywood, Florida; and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, Green Bay, WI.

As the certification procedure for automobile technician training programs was growing to success, the employers in the autobody industry requested that a certification program be established for collision repair and refinish training programs across the nation. Such an effort was initiated in 1988 and certification for such programs began in 1990. Subsequently, the employers of the medium/heavy truck technicians requested the same service from ASE/NATEF and their program was initiated in 1992. The standards for light/medium duty CNG/LPG programs were developed with funds from a grant from the US Department of Energy in response to the Energy Policy Act, and were released in 1996.

The success of ASE certification in improving the quality of the automobile technician training programs has been the subject of three independent research studies. The results from these studies have shown that students from an ASE certified program achieved higher learning outcomes and the programs had better placement of graduates.

I believe the certification effort initiated by ASE should be the model for improvement of vocational/technical programs at all levels of vocational/technical education. There is a growing shortage of skilled workers in our nation and the only recommendations coming from national industry organizations suggest that we import such workers from other countries. This nation is sending approximately 62% of its high school graduates to college to prepare for professional jobs while only 18% of the workforce is employed in such professions. Our economy cannot prosper with such an imbalance and the social snobbery which prevents individuals from training for honest, good paying jobs.

Looking back, I am amazed at the progress and the consistent, strong support industry has provided the efforts to improve entry-level training. The ASE Board never backed away from its initial commitment to the new concept. The NATEF Board of Trustees has taken the leadership responsibility assigned to it by the ASE Board, and the members have been consistent in their attention to the issues brought to them by the staff.

I remember: John Pohanka who gave so much of his time and expertise as we began the venture; the leadership of Ron Weiner, who placed his reputation on the line for the program; the strong support of Lillian Bates, Bill Porento, John Mack, Chuck Groves and many others too numerous to mention; that Chrysler was the first to require that a program be ASE Certified to receive an automobile for their training program. I have considered it a privilege to have the opportunity to be a part of something new, something worthwhile, something on the cutting edge of a new era in training.

Finally, it has been a wonderful experience to work with Ron Weiner, Joe Mills and the outstanding staff of ASE. I have never worked with a more capable, professional or caring group of people in my three careers covering about 59 years.

The old order passes and gives way to the new.

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