Heathrow, Fla., July 23, 2007 — High school automotive technology courses and participation in student automotive technology competitions offer interested students a ticket to the booming and secure job market of motor vehicle repair.

Since 1998, the average annual growth rate for automotive mechanical and electric repair industry has held at 3.3 percent, and the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates 34,000 new auto techs will be required annually through 2014. Auto dealerships, franchise operators and independent repair shops all across the United States need well-trained automotive technicians who understand how to service and fix everything from hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles to conventional cars and trucks. And, because repair and maintenance must be performed at locations that are convenient for customers, those jobs never will be outsourced.

As a result of the high demand for qualified technicians, employees generally are well compensated for their skills and expertise. A Harris Interactive survey in March-April 2007 showed new car dealers pay auto techs from $28,000 to $96,000 per year. In some regions of the country, AAA reports, master technicians earn as much as $100,000 annually. Industry-wide, approximately 90 percent of auto shop owners and managers offer employee benefits, and some auto manufacturers provide generous medical and retirement plans, discounts on vehicle purchases, and paid vacations.

A 2002 survey by the National Automotive Technicians Education Association found that nearly 65 percent of public high schools offered mechanics and repair occupational programs. Every year, automotive instructors at many of these schools prepare their students to compete in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills, the largest such national competition.

Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Manager Allan Stanley would like to see every school participate in the program because of the scholarships, training opportunities, and unique experience the competition provides young men and women alike.

Although some schools, such as those in Vale, Oregon, and Maui, Hawaii, have been participating in the program for decades — and seeing their students place high in the competition — others are relative newcomers. For example, Michael Schmidt, new to teaching and a first time national qualifying instructor, guided his Paris High School team, from Paris Texas, to a national title in 2006.

High school juniors and seniors who compete in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills have the chance to win a portion of more than $6 million worth of scholarships to colleges and technical schools offering automotive technology training, as well as prizes such as valuable tools and major service equipment for their schools. Top competitors also may earn tuition to Ford´s Automotive Student Service Educational Training (ASSET) program.

"Getting advanced training to understand the complex, computer-driven technology of today´s vehicles is a key to obtaining a well-paying job in the field," Stanley said, adding, "The best technicians enjoy the challenge of solving problems, mastering technology, and using their heads and their hands."

In 2007, more than 7,500 high school students enrolled in automotive technology programs across the country competed in this challenge of their advanced math, electronics, and mechanical skills, working at the local level up to state championships. The 100 national finalists, a two-person team representing every state, faced-off in a hands-on automotive repair competition in Dearborn, Michigan, on June 26.

There, Austin Castrol and Daniel Lehmkuhl, new graduates of San Luis Obispo High School in San Luis Obispo, California, captured the student auto tech crown. Both plan to use the scholarships they won at the state and national competitions to finance their college education and then pursue automotive careers.

Participating in the competition in his home state set Luis Tucci of Standish, Maine, on a career path. After graduating from high school, Tucci responded to an invitation from the Portland, Maine, AAA club to apply for an auto-related position. Hired as a AAA fleet driver, he now responds to customer requests for roadside service. Competing in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills helped teach him "how to work on a car efficiently and do it correctly," Tucci says.

All schools with an automotive technology program are eligible to enroll in the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition. Each school may send up to 10 students to the state qualifying exam. At the state hands-on finals, the young men and women with the highest written exam scores pair up in teams to "debug" assigned cars. School auto instructors supervise the preparation for the competition and accompany the students to all events but can only observe from the sidelines when students are on the field trying to diagnose and fix their cars´ problems.

Students, parents, and school administrators interested in finding out more information about the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills may visit www.autoskills.com or contact Allan Stanley at astanley@national.aaa.com.

"High school automotive programs allow young people to learn about vehicle repair, proper maintenance, and provides them an opportunity to explore automotive repair as a possible career path," Stanley said.

Stanley speaks from experience, having participated in the competition after being inspired by his high school auto tech teacher. He went on to college, became ASE certified, then worked as an auto technician, a job he found economically and professionally rewarding as well as challenging.

"Now, I have the opportunity to help students realize the many opportunities available to them in this automotive service industry," he said.

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