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Engines of inspiration

Lithia Ford employee and RSH grad Sam Minyard chats with students at the Ford TechDrive Month on Oct. 22 at the Roseburg High School auto shop.

Engines of inspiration

Ford and RHS celebrate auto program partnership

In its second year at Roseburg High School, the automotive program is already churning out employable graduates who can also serve as role models for younger students.

During the recent Ford TechDrive Month event at the school’s auto shop, 2019 grad Sam Minyard was discussing his transition from high school to his current job at Lithia Ford in Roseburg.

“Hey man, you got good opportunities here,” Minyard said to junior Austin Gilbert, who’d recognized Minyard from a class they shared last year and is taking auto classes to learn more about engineering. 

“Absorb as much as you can,” Minyard told him, “because it’s a good career, and even if you don’t do it as a career … you’re always going to need to own a car, and it’s not a bad thing to know how to work on your own car.”

Minyard was one of several Ford representatives who attended the Oct. 22 event intended to celebrate the partnership between the company, local dealership Lithia Ford and the RHS automotive program.

The program involves Ford and several other automotive manufacturers and allows students to earn industry-accepted Automotive Service Excellence certifications. Ford provides its learning management system to RHS through its Automotive Career Exploration program aimed at high schools and community colleges with auto shops around the country.

“What we’re trying to do is introduce this trade, the automotive industry trade, into the schools by providing our learning management system where It can enhance the curriculum that the instructor is currently using,” said Joe Long, Ford Motor Co.’s regional technical talent placement specialist for the Seattle region, which includes Oregon, Alaska, Washington, Idaho and Montana.

The auto program incorporated the Ford LMS in its curriculum when it opened at the high school last year under instructor Don Zell as part of the school’s growing Career and Technical Education class offerings. This year’s enrollment has reached about 120 students.

 “We want to make sure that we’re constantly following up and recognizing who’s utilizing it,” Long said of the Ford LMS. “How is it benefiting the school, the dealership and also the local community?”

The auto industry is among many other manufacturing and trade industries that are experiencing the dual challenge of worker shortages and increased skill requirements.  

“As cars are getting more and more technical, it’s getting harder and harder to get people into the field, for one,” said Robert Johnson, service manager at Lithia in Roseburg. “And two, the technology in cars is just changing. … It’s not just a matter of nuts and bolts, it’s programs and computers and controllers. It’s getting pretty complicated.”

When Johnson met Minyard last year at a meeting about the high school program, he saw a motivated individual with a strong interest in the industry. Johnson told the then-17-year-old senior that on Minyard’s 18th birthday, he’d give him a career.

While students out of high school start in entry-level positions with the dealership, Johnson said the potential to move up the ladder is as high as an employee’s level of motivation is strong.

“You got college, you got other options out there. I myself never went to college. Right out of high school, I got a job being a mechanic, just climbed through the field to where now I’m running the shop,” Johnson said.

Senior Irene McDonald is in her second year of the auto program and also looks forward to a possible career in the industry. She’s already 18 and hopes to start working for Ford as soon as November as a lube technician.

A job shadow experience last year gave her more confidence in creating a plan for her future, and with her high GPA, she’s also hoping to attend community college at no cost.

“I know that with seniors, it’s really scary because I’m thinking, what am I going to do?” she said. “Am I going to continue my fast food job for the rest of my life? I was working at Wendy’s before this, and I was just thinking, I’m so glad I’m in the auto program so I can have a foot in the door.”

The Ford representatives at the Ford TechDrive Month event spent the day chatting with students, and a master technician demonstrated vehicle diagnostics and other procedures on Ford vehicles brought in for the students to check out. Along with celebrating the program, the group announced that Lithia would be donating a late-model vehicle to the shop in coming months, along with the equipment necessary to work on it.

Donations are among the support Ford offers through the Automotive Career Exploration program, along with job shadow opportunities, apprentice programs and part-time work.

“It shows support for the students and their futures for education,” Zell said.

As a senior last year, Minyard originally wasn’t sure what his next step would be after high school. But he developed his passion for vehicles in the automotive program. Now, he hopes to work his way up, gaining more training and more responsibility.

“If you put the time into it and you’re dedicated, you can make quite a bit of money doing it,” he said.

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