It started with some manufacturers getting together with a vision to build a world-class career and technical education ecosystem in their area. The Fresno [California] Business Council incubated the idea and about four years ago began taking an inventory of what was available from an educational standpoint for career and technical programs for a variety of industries. They surveyed an eight-county area, and according to Mike Betts, chairman and CEO of Betts Company, “We found we had some good programs, but we also had some programs that were faltering from lack of investment.”
Following the assessment, Betts and other business leaders held task force meetings with education partners at high schools, community colleges, and universities, as well as with local government officials, to discuss what was and wasn’t working when it came to educational opportunities in the career and technical arenas. They also talked about best practices, including the need for accredited instructors, certification, and dual enrollment.
One big gap they discovered was that there was not a medium- and heavy-duty truck technician training program anywhere in California’s Central Valley. The closest programs were at least 200 miles away. But Reedley College, located in California’s San Joaquin Valley, had an ag/diesel program. Betts says the group was able to work with Reedley to widen the ag/diesel program so it became National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation accredited for ASE (National Association for Automotive Service Excellence) master technician programs.
The group did not stop there. It also worked with Duncan Polytec, the only 100% career technical high school in the area, to develop a truck technician program.
“Our brand new heavy truck program covers ASE master technician content, and students enrolled in the program will then be able to matriculate into the Reedley College program,” Betts explains. The program is set up as a dual enrollment program so students in the Duncan Polytec program can receive college credit for their technical classes.
“We just broke ground for a new building, and it is going to be the most state-of-the-art high school program anywhere in the country,” Betts says. “The Duncan program is a flagship program, but other programs we have set up will also offer dual enrollment and certifications along with fully accredited instructors.”
Industry stakeholders reviewed curriculum to make sure it was based on accredited programs and “to make sure that each program is one of continuous improvement,” Betts explains.
The end result, he believes, is that students coming out of these programs will be trained to deal with real issues related to truck maintenance and repair. “We know that it takes time to become a productive technician, but when these kids walk into a shop, they will have a great foundation to build upon.”
The programs are set up to allow 30 students per semester in each class, where they will get a combination of in-class and hands-on experience.
Betts says their efforts have been successful because business did not undertake the effort alone. “You need to form an alliance. You work with educators and you work with industry together. You form a vision and you take an inventory of what is available in your area and where the gaps are.”
Betts also believes the time is ripe for these types of educational programs to be successful. “People are realizing that there are great technical jobs out there. In addition, academia truly does want the industry to be engaged and involved in the educational process.”
He adds, “People need to believe that you can do this and be optimistic about it. You need to get enough industry support, because it is hard to do it by yourself and you will get frustrated. But if you gather industry support and then bring educators into the conversation, great things will happen.”