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Donation helps MCTEA students learn new technologies to build next generation of car technicians

Vern Eide Ford vehicle donation to enhance student class experience

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Christopher Seebeck, right, a regional technical talent placement specialist with Ford, talks Tuesday morning with Konrad Muntefering, a student in the automotive engine repair and performance class at Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy while they examine the engine of a new Ford Bronco. Ford officials were on hand to donate a 2014 Ford Fusion to the school program, and also brought a pair of new Ford vehicles for students to examine. (Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic)

The students in the automotive engine repair and performance class Tuesday morning at Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy had gathered around the three vehicles brought into their workshop by Vern Eide Ford. As is often the case with students interested in automobiles, they had their heads under the hoods, examining the engines.

Even if they didn't all have traditional engines under the hood.

Students in the class were getting a chance to gain some hands-on experience in working on modern vehicles thanks to the permanent donation of a 2014 Ford Fusion as well as the temporary loan of a new Ford Bronco and an electric Ford Mach E4X, two vehicles that represent the latest in cutting-edge technology from the American automotive manufacturer.

Andrew Hiles, a teacher with the MCTEA automotive program, said giving the students exposure to newer automotive technology is vital to keep them up to speed on the latest trends in modern vehicle design and repair.

“That’s what we’re going for - newer technology that can keep these guys up to date so when they get done with high school and go on to technical school or they go off to Vern Eide Ford or another dealership that they are more prepared on the electrical side instead of working on a bunch of carburetors and older technology,” Hiles said.

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Adam Hillman, left, with Vern Eide Ford in Mitchell, speaks Tuesday morning with a student in the automotive program at Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy. (Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic)

Students and representatives from Ford mingled amongst the vehicles, with some students occupying the driver and passenger seats while others discussed the finer points of vehicles. The 2014 Ford Focus, which will have a permanent home at the MCTEA program, maybe seven years old, but it still sports many of the modern features that future technicians will need to know when owners bring them in for work.

“It gives newer technology to the school for them to play with,” said Adam Hillman, with Vern Eide Ford in Mitchell. “It gets them a little more educated on the newer stuff, and it’s something that we feel the school will greatly use.”

It’s a two-way beneficial street for the Ford representatives and the students and faculty at MCTEA. Students and instructors at the school both have a chance to explore vehicles and technology that might not otherwise be available due to cost or supply chain issues, and Ford officials get a chance to promote potential future employment for students who may want to pursue a career in automotive repair.

Skilled laborers are in demand in virtually every industry, and the automotive industry is no exception. One industry expert estimated that among 16,500 dealerships associated with the National Automobile Dealers organizations would need at least 76,000 technicians between 2020 and 2026 just to keep pace with demand.

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Kelvin Muilenburg and Fabian Alverez examine the 2014 Ford Fusion donated to the automotive program at the Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy by Vern Eide Ford of Mitchell. (Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic)

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Sharing modern and brand-new vehicles with students is a good way to both give back to the school, but also to encourage students to consider selecting auto technician work as a career.

“That’s the goal,” said Christopher Seebeck, regional technical talent placement specialist with Ford. “Ford’s thing, as much as it is for all manufacturers, is to capture as many students coming into the world as possible. We know that’s not a reality, but if we can just do our part to help fill the funnel and put more kids in the pipeline, that’s really what our goal is.”

In-demand, good-paying jobs certainly have their appeal, and Hiles said he’s seen students embrace the idea first hand.

“Last year, I had four or five students for sure who talked to me about it and went off to working in shops or went on to school, whether it was for automotive or for diesel. I’d say over three-fourths of these guys are pretty interested and will pursue a future in something auto-related,” Hiles said.

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Andrew Hiles, a teacher with the automotive department at Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy, talks Tuesday morning with students in the program shop. Officials with Ford were on hand to donate a 2014 Ford Fusion to the program. (Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic)

The two newest vehicles on campus Tuesday morning, the Ford Bronco and the Mustang E4X, were only on hand for examination and were to be taken back to the dealership at the end of the visit. But even just a glimpse around those vehicles, with Ford experts on hand to answer questions, can make a difference in understanding just how newer vehicles - including fully-electric vehicles like the Mustang - operate.

Those vehicles are growing in popularity and reliability and are most definitely the wave of the future, Hiles said. They are becoming popular enough that some enthusiasts are modifying classic vehicles into fully electric cars.

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“Even in the hot rod world and the world of aftermarket parts. I’ve seen a couple of older vehicles, like a 1970 Plymouth Satellite where it was all electric, and a 1974 Ford F-150 that was all electric. (Cars) are adapting and changing,” Hiles said.

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Aaron Opperman and Michael Wantoch get an up-close look at a new Ford Bronco Tuesday morning at the Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy. (Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic)

With the Ford Fusion, Hiles said the students will have extended chances to learn more about a vehicle built within 10 years. Car technology is constantly evolving, and the Fusion will help bridge the gap between vehicles built in the 1990s and 2000s to the today’s modern machines that are still rolling off the assembly line.

“Especially when we get into engine performance. We learn about sensors and scan tools, and this is a great example to show off what a scan tool is capable of,” Hiles said. “I can set bugs and we can look at the brakes and take them apart, because even brakes are different on newer vehicles.”

For the students who know they want to pursue a career in the automotive industry, manufacturers like Ford have programs that can help jump start that process. The ASSET (Automotive Student Service Education Training) and ACE (Automotive Career Exploration) programs are available and can start a student down the path to a new career.

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Vern Eide Ford recently donated a 2014 Ford Fusion to the automotive program at Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy. (Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic)

The ASSET program features a paid internship that allows students to learn and earn at the same time. The students alternate for six to eight weeks in the classroom and six to eight weeks with their sponsoring Ford or Lincoln dealership. Students who complete the course earn an associate’s degree as well as job experience.

The ACE program is a partnership between For and Lincoln dealerships and secondary and post-secondary education programs. The intent of the program is to raise awareness and increase interest in career opportunities within the automotive industry.

The jobs are out there for those who are interested, Seebeck said, and dealerships like Vern Eide are aiming to land as many as they can down the road.

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Students in the automotive engine repair and performance class at Mitchell Career & Technical Education Academy will get to work with a 2014 Ford Fusion donated to the school by Vern Eide Ford in Mitchell. (Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic)

“Whether they want to go into post-secondary education or go to Mitchell Technical College or into the Ford ASSET program, we just want to support them the best we can. Not every students will make a long-term career path out of this, but if they come into it we want to get them in the right way,” Seebeck said.

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at ekaufman@mitchellrepublic.com.
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