Transportation Technologies Puts Students on the Road to a Career
Richard Saxton sees automotive technology as six open lanes pointed to where motivated people want to go—a dynamic, recession-proof field that is always in growth mode. “In an economic upturn, people are buying and servicing new cars. In a downturn, people are fixing up and maintaining old cars. There will always be work for people who are prepared with the technical skills they need to do auto service and repair,” he says.
Saxton, assistant professor and head of Transportation Technologies Management at Community College of Philadelphia, didn’t start as a “car guy.” He began his career as a communications major at Temple University, a choice that pleased his father, but not Saxton, who was more interested in technical studies. After graduating, he attended technical school and began working as an auto technician. After several years, he used his skills as a writer and editor to go to work at Chilton Publishing, an automotive publishing house. When an opportunity to teach at the College opened up, he knew it would be a perfect fit for him.
The College offers Associate of Applied Science degrees in Automotive Technology with a Service Technology option, and a brand new Management and Marketing option. The programs teach the same skills that the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) identifies as important in its certifications. Both programs are designed to assist area dealerships in staffing their growing service departments. Students also can transfer to Drexel University or to technical schools for further education, or they can use the skills learned to start their own businesses.
“You need education to handle the diagnostic work to be a technician,” Saxton said. “The technology is constantly evolving.” Although declines in vehicle sales, dealer retrenchment and high gasoline prices have rocked the industry, Saxton says the fundamentals are sound. “People are still actively buying cars and repairing and servicing them, and dealerships will continue to see their main profit in repairs and parts. So they need qualified graduates, as well as the ability to promote from within.”
About 70 percent of the training in the program is hands-on at the College’s auto technology facility at 48th and Ludlow streets in West Philadelphia, at internships with automotive partners and in student classwork that includes doing emission inspections for all the city of Philadelphia’s fleet of vehicles.
Saxton acknowledges that it’s hard to predict what will occur in the auto industry in the next few years. Still, he’s getting ready for what are likely to be major changes in engines and how they are powered by planning a new course in alternative fuels—biodiesel, ethanol and hydrogen—and looking at other trends in the industry that will affect service personnel.