Investing in the Local Youth
Praised for his community involvement, Tyler Rook, owner of Victor Auto Body Works in Middletown, Conn., is doing a lot more than being a part of his local chamber of commerce. Not only is he giving back to the community, but he’s also helping when it comes to a never-ending struggle in the industry: the tech shortage.
For over 15 years, the owner of the $3.5 million, 12,000-square-foot shop has been a part of the craft committee at his local technical high school, Vinal Technical High School. As a committee member, he, along with other shop owners, meets with the tech school instructors twice per year to give advice on what should be taught and different trends with which the students should stay up to date.
Over 50 percent of his staff over the years have come from the school, and of the students that have either completed an internship, work-study or trial period at the shop, 70 percent of those students end up working for Rook.
“It’s a good source for me to grab the top student and turn them into A-techs within 5–6 years,” he says.
Rook shares his role on the committee, what he teaches those who come in his shop and the overall importance of getting involved.
The Role of a Committee Member
The biggest thing that Rook does is give feedback to instructors on what is critical for the students to learn, especially with today’s advanced technology and repair procedures.
He finds that, a lot of times, unfortunately, these schools don’t have the equipment they need to educate students. Some don’t have basic shop equipment, like spot welders or plasma cutters. His shop does electronic measuring, but the school still uses old tram measures with gauges.
Rook estimates that the industry retention rate (those who are educated in the industry) is somewhere in about the 10–20 percent range. He believes the problem is that kids don’t necessarily understand that this can be a viable career. A-techs in Rook’s shop make anywhere from $75,000–$100,000.
Keeping open communication with the instructors is better than no communication at all, he says.
What to Teach
Every year, Rook tries out one or two of the students from the school. They either participate in a work-study program where they receive school credit for working at the shop, or sometimes they come in after school.
When they first arrive, Rook says that you have to feel out every kid on whether or not they want to be there. Start off by giving them a small internal job, like a used car, to get an idea of how capable this individual is. They might be the kid who gets it right away or they might need some time.
He says that he tries to acclimate them to the world of what his shop does, which is high production, quality work, deadlines, and no games.
They may have done customer work at the school, but you need to educate them on the time frames, the blueprinting process, the estimating, and the supplement process. One of the first things he teaches young technicians is how to properly disassemble, tag and bag, and put repair order numbers on every shop part and item of the repair.
One of the crucial things he makes clear is that training is mandatory. Being I-CAR Gold Class for 30 consecutive years, the shop does training every month. No matter what position you are, you have to take classes.
The Importance of Community Involvement
“We laugh a lot about it but it’s a grow-your-own-tech era that [we’re] living in,” Rook says.
By being involved, Rook has found a way to find key employees.
When you have the right person who comes in and is already a self-starter and motivated, it’s easier getting them to where you know they have the potential to be, Rook says.
Rook advises others to reach out to local schools and colleges to see how to get involved. If his school has an opportunity, it’s likely that yours will, too.