High-Tech Auto Shop Helps Mechanics Get Back to Work

A San Diego community college shows how schools can use the federal stimulus to help California climb out of the recession and put people back to work.

MiraCosta College received $400,000 in federal stimulus money to purchase two hybrid vehicles -- which it's using for a one-of-a-kind program designed to teach mechanics how to repair hybrid cars. That's a skill that could help unemployed mechanics land jobs.

Linda Kurokawa, the school's director of Community Services and Business Development, developed the program after grant administrators encouraged her to come up with something that would be forward thinking and organic, a program that could start out small and then becomes self-sustaining after the grant money runs out. 

Most of the mechanics that work on hybrid technology are  trained by dealerships to work on particular types of cars, she says. This class teaches the students how to repair at least two types of hybrid technology.

"For working on this type of vehicle, everything is specific," Carl Ladd, a student in the program, told the North County Times. "You can't just go out and buy what you would consider an equal replacement from Kragen." 

The course accepts underemployed students like Ladd, who works at a gas station on Camp Pendleton, or those who are unemployed. It's not a beginner's course -- applicants have to pass a basic mechanics skills test first.     

The grant will pay to put 120 students through the course. The program is operated by the San Diego Workforce Partnership, and only accepts San Diego residents as students. When the funding runs out, the college will need to find resources to continue the class -- which means they'll likely open it up to eveyrone and start charging a fee.

With California's unemployment rate at 13%, this is a program that can help reduce the growing jobless numbers -- and other schools across the state can learn from.

"It's a start," says Alan Gin, economics professor at the University of San Diego. "What's happened in this downturn, there is this massive restructuring in the economy. (Certain types of jobs) are not coming back. We need to get people where they can get new jobs of the future. We are not out of the woods yet, so anything along these lines would be helpful."

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