FORT WALTON BEACH — In a collaboration between Step One Automotive Group and Northwest Florida State College, the two organizations celebrated the grand opening of the Automotive Center of Excellence Training Center on Wednesday. The center will teach the next generation of men and women who pursue careers in the automotive industry.
“By partnering with industry leaders and introducing the Automotive Technology Apprenticeship Program, we provide students with an unmatched opportunity to gain skills and knowledge while working alongside experienced professionals,” college President Devon Stephenson said. “At NWFSC, our goal is to produce graduates who are job-ready and equipped to drive innovation in the automotive industry.”
Here is what we know:
How did the partnership happen?
The automotive field is hurting. According to the National Automotive Dealers Association, there are approximately 76,100 automotive technical positions that are open right now across the country. Meanwhile, only 39,000 workers a year emerge from colleges and training programs.
That statistic gave Stephenson an idea: Why not partner with a “national partner” to help turn things around? He reached out to Marueen Bierman, the marketing director for Step One Automotive to get the project off the ground one year ago.
“Over a year ago, Dr. Devon Stephenson reached out to me and said, ‘Maureen, I have an idea, and Step One Automotive Group is the only organization that can help us make that a reality.’ ” said Bierman.
“When we met, he shared with me his desire to start up an automotive technology training program at the college and was looking for a partner where the students could do hands-on apprentice training in a real shop with master certified technicians.”
After a year of renovations and with help from a $2.8 million grant from the governor’s job growth fund, the Center of Excellence was born.
What is the new facility all about?
The Center of Excellence is a 39,722-square-foot building that features 17, 10,000-pound lifts and 2, 12,000-pound lifts and can service vehicles like the Ford F-250. Each lift has three-stage lifting arms that will accommodate most chassis.
In the back, there are 2, 20,000-pound lifts along with a 30,000-pound lift that can accommodate a Ford F-450 or a 26-foot box truck or equivalent. Along with the lifts are a dedicated 7,000 square-foot detail shop and a 2,200-square-foot paint and dent repair center.
The facility can teach students all aspects of automotive care, from oil changes and brake work to window tinting facilities and a spray-in bed liner bay. When it comes to the environment, the facility also provides responsible ways for fluid and tire disposal.
What can a student expect?
Students who participate in the program will undergo one year of study that is filled with 720 hours of tuition-free technician training with complimentary books and tools. Students will learn everything when it comes to the field, from customer service to more advanced concepts, through a combination of classroom instruction and training at the facility.
Fort Walton Beach Mayor Dick Rynearson believes that this new program will hopefully bring more women and youth to the automotive field.
He noted that only “5.7% of auto mechanics are men, and only 4.3% are women.” Rynearson went on to say: “Students graduating from this facility are likely to lower that number. The average age of a certified mechanic is 42 years old. Graduates here will also lower that statistic.”
Once finished, students who complete the program will have earned nationally recognized certifications in electric service, diesel systems and automotive service.