Cuyamaca College is adding a new associates degree that partners with local, independent repair shops to address a shortage of qualified auto mechanics.
"We need to bring younger people into our industry. The average age of a technician is well over 50 years," said John Eppstein, owner of John's Automotive Care, who's also an advisor to the college.
The Automotive Service Councils of California (ASCCA) Associate of Science Degree program is the first of its kind in California.
Students in the program will take 1,200 hours of classroom instruction and work 1,200 hours at a local repair shop, Eppstein said.
The program will also provide resources for students interested in eventually opening their own repair shop.
"We're going to teach them a little bit about the business because fixing a car at home for yourself is very different than working on a car in a shop."
As cars become more high-tech, mechanics need to have a broader understanding of how a car is configured.
"One of the misconceptions of today is we have a computer we plug into the car and it will tell us exactly what is wrong with the car. And that is incorrect," said Eppstein. "We have a piece of equipment we plug into the car and it tells us what part of the car the problem is in. We then need to go in and do testing to figure out what the actual issue is."
Eppstein said mechanics spend about 75 percent of their time testing and inspecting a vehicle when it comes into the repair shop. The other 25 percent of their time is spent on actually repairing it.
"There's so many different parts of the car that 20, 25 years ago were all mechanical that are now not only mechanical, but they're electronic as well," explained Eppstein. "Then, there's a lot of components today that 25 years ago were all mechanical, and today, they're all electronic."
Tony Shelton works at John's Automotive Care and has been an auto technician for 23 years.
"We go to class every couple of months for the new technologies, learn about what's coming up," said Shelton.
Shlelton knows with his skills, he'll always have a job.
"I realized there was a need and no matter where I moved, there was going to be a place to work."
The two-year degree program begins in January. Cuyamaca College is currently recruiting from the approximately 70 repair shops affiliated with ASCCA in order to form partnerships in developing the next generation of auto mechanics.
Cuyamaca College has been offering similar programs in partnership with Ford and GM dealerships since the 1980s and '90s, and according to the college, 99 percent of the graduates are hired by sponsoring dealerships, with starting salaries of about $22 an hour.