Cover Story: Teaming Up With Tech Schools

Training tomorrow's technicians: WyoTech is helping to fill the void.


Don’t let the name fool you.

It may sound like a small vocational school for local Wyoming residents, but in fact, young men and women from every state in the union attend WyoTech’s sprawling campuses across the country. Started in 1966 in Laramie, WY, WyoTech features automotive schools in Sacramento and Long Beach, CA, an aviation school in Boston, a motorcycle school in Daytona Beach, FL and a diesel school in Blairsville, PA.

Still, Laramie is where it all began, and that is where you’ll find WyoTech President Guy Warpness helping to mentor around 700 diesel technicians a year. A proud alumnus, Warpness is a true believer in a system that has already turned out a couple generations of top technicians. The school is a true success story in an industry that desperately needs one, and touring the extensive shops recently with Warpness, it does not take long to understand his enthusiasm.

GROWING REPUTATION

The Laramie campus offers three six-month core programs—automotive, collision refinishing and diesel—and all students must take an additional three-month specialty course for a total of 1,500 hours to graduate. Warpness says many students take an additional three-month class after their nine-month term to add to their education and make them more employable. Classes fill up with students from around the country—the average student travels around 1,000 miles to attend; a testament to WyoTech’s growing, mainly word-of-mouth reputation.

Diesel program coordinator Chad Enyeart says the advantage of the core program for students and employers alike is that instructors do not get overly industry-specific, so that knowledge can be applied to a wide range of applications.

“It’s not about over-the-road trucks, it’s not about marine diesel or off-road diesel; we just teach the basics, and that applies to any diesel industry,” he says. “That’s where our specialty programs come in (later). We have an advanced diesel course, strictly towards Class-7 and 8 over-the-road trucks.”

“SOFT” SKILLS

For many students, finding a job at the end is the easy part—the tough thing can be adapting to and thriving in a professional environment. From the very start, students are trained not only as technicians, but as well-dressed, well-mannered, professionals; not always the easiest thing for recent high school graduates, who make up about 95 percent of the population.

Warpness says “soft skills” such as proper attire and punctuality are critical to finding and keeping a good job.

“The reason a lot of employers come to our campus is we have a very strict student conduct code,” he says. “We take it very seriously.”

Enyeart said there are about 40 items that students are held accountable for, from prohibiting cell phone use to tucking in their shirts.

“That’s what the world is going to expect,” he says. “We’re not fast-paced but we’re consistent, just like a work environment. At the end of the day, it’s our professionalism policy and our tough, regimented curriculum that’s preparing these guys for the industry. And that’s what it’s all about.”

It’s not so much as bridging the generation gap as showing the youngsters how things need to be done in the real world, Warpness says.

“Being a baby boomer, we’re dealing with a whole different kid (who is used to) a different type of structure, so our challenge is to restructure that kid to fit into a fleet environment that is more than likely being run by a baby boomer,” he says. “We don’t feel we’re training students for a job—a job is Burger King or Wal-Mart—we hope we’re preparing these students for a career. If a fleet or dealership plans on growing, they’re not really hiring a technician, they’re hiring a future service manager.”

KEEPING UP

WyoTech also keeps its finger on the pulse of the industry. Twice a year, school administrators bring in an advisory committee of industry professionals—fleet officials, dealers, alumni—to evaluate the entire curriculum. Enyeart says the information provided by the group is invaluable.

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