INTERVIEW: TechForce on ‘Let’s Talk Wheels’ Radio Show June 20, 2020
Let’s Talk Wheels: Mike Pressendo (June 20, 2020)
On June 20, 2020 TechForce Chief Marketing & Officer Mike Pressendo joined host Mike Herzing for an interview on the ‘Let’s Talk Wheels’ Radio Show and podcast.
The interview covered the technician shortage, opportunities for technicians and stories about students who found success in their technical education.
Listen to the full interview below:
For the full transcript of the interview, read below:
[MIKE HERZING, host of ‘Let’s Talk Wheels’] Folks, everybody knows how important training is and automotive – how I am with automotive technology and things like that. I used to be an automotive technology instructor, I’ve been a shop owner for 40 years, I’ve been a certified tech and things like that since the 70s… but you know that the industry is really struggling right now with not enough people.
There’s a company out there called TechForce Foundation. It’s actually a nonprofit organization and they help kids with the auto, get into the automotive industry. We’ve got Mike Pressendo there and he’s gonna talk about what TechForce does, and how they can help some of our kids. Mike welcome to “Let’s Talk Wheels”, big guy!
[MIKE PRESSENDO, Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer, TechForce Foundation] Thanks for having me Mike.
[HERZING] All right now, tell us, tell us what your company does, what your Foundation does.
[PRESSENDO] So, TechForce is a national not-for-profit and we’ve been around about 15 years.
Our mission is to champion students to and through their education and auto careers as professional technicians.
So that’s the fancy language. Bottom line we’re around fifteen years old, we dole out nearly two million dollars a year in scholarships to students going to post-secondary technical schools and the transportation trades.
And then another big part of what we do is recognizing that kids don’t have these hands-on experiences anymore to discover their own aptitudes and passion for working with their hands, fixing things… The shop programs that were prolific 20, 30 years ago aren’t anymore. I mean Texas has some great ones, but they’re just not around.
So we, we literally start working with kids as early as junior high with hands-on workshops and stuff, online skills assessments, even helping kids understand what their learning style is.
We found that hands-on learners excel in these kind of professions, but these kids don’t know that. And the hands-on learners, the kind of kid that stereotypically gets kind of sidelined in the classroom, because they don’t like sitting around. They’re fidgety, they want to be doing things with their hands. We help them recognize there’s actually skill and talent there.
We do, about, 1200 different videos available online. We’ve got blogs, and resources… and, and the power behind us is the industry.
As you mentioned, massive shortage. There’s at least two jobs to every one graduate right now in this field. And so, the industry’s come together; Ford, GM, Snap-on, Penske, recognizing that that they all are dealing with the same staffing challenges. But if they could all speak with one voice, through the kind of efforts that TechForce coordinates and leads, that’s how we can hopefully… and then we actually have to… we’re working to change the the outdated image.
[HERZING] (laughs) Yes!
[PRESSENDO] You know people have in their mind, ‘O grease monkey, low-tech…’ There’s more code in a modern car than put the man on the moon,
[PRESSENDO] than even in a F-35 fighter jet!
There’s a hundred million lines of code in a modern car. These are not low-tech jobs. These are high-tech jobs. They’re also high-paying.
I mean the average nationally is around $60,000, but you and I both know plenty of techs that are making well into the six figures. If they’re good at it they can they can do well quickly.
[HERZING] Well I’ve got a couple of kids that I taught that are now turning 21, uh, that, one kid, one of my students who was a good kid… didn’t do, wasn’t like the number one or anything like that… left high school, went immediately to work for the dealer, didn’t go to a trade school or anything, went to work for the dealer on the lat… on the lube rack where they always start you know, making 17 bucks an hour. You know 15, 17 bucks an hour.
He moved his way up. He was there, in the third year he was there, he became a transmission guy. And so he was mak- he made $92,000 last year. And so,
[PRESSENDO] Not bad!
[HERZING] Not bad for somebody with no college education and things like that. And no college debt! (laughs)
[PRESSENDO] Well that’s another big thing. I mean I’ve got a couple of kids that are college age, and the debt they’re dealing with at a traditional four-year college… we know that the, the people that go through the CTE schools, the technical schools, whether it’s automotive, diesel, A/C, they’re coming out of school with a fraction of the debt that their friends who went to four-year schools do.
And the data shows, at least in the transportation space, that they stick with it more than people who have some of the other degrees in the traditional four-year schools and they tend to be happier at it, too. And you don’t typically take your work home on the weekend when you’re doing this kind of work.
You’re not at risk of getting off-shored. People aren’t going to send their car to Japan to get serviced. So there’s a lot of job security in it. In the light of all the COVID stuff going on they were deemed essential workers. So –
[PRESSENDO] – a lot of these folks kept their jobs when other people weren’t!
So there’s – but as I was saying earlier – though the image. You know sometimes it’s the parents that are in the way. The, the student, the kid may be really passionate about this but the parents are like ‘oh no we need you to go to a four-year school.’
So we’re really working hard to – a phrase we like to use, we didn’t coin it – but instead of talking blue-collar, talk ‘new-collar.’
These are really high tech, well compensated, great lifestyle kind of careers that, that you know people aren’t as tuned in to. So that’s what we’re about.
So at TechForce.org is where people can learn about all the information and resources. We don’t sell anything. We’re just trying to help these young people find a fulfilling career path.
[HERZING] Well even if they don’t use it as a career, I’ve got a friend that was a principal at one of the high schools around here. And he was a principal for 10-12 years. And he worked his way through college at a, I think it was a Chevy dealer.
Okay, and he says, ‘I made great money. Everybody else was working fast food or doing this or doing that and I’m making…’ you know he’s making like $22 an hour, uh, twenty years ago! It was just huge money, and he says, ‘I made plenty of money. I bought a, I bought a car and didn’t have any debt. It was great! I didn’t have any college debt.’
And now he’s actually opened up, he retired and opened up a place that sells exotic cars for people and does consignment and things like that. But it’s it’s really a great career.
I mean but there are a lot of… when I was teaching a lot of my kids are just the kids that would sit around and fidget they wouldn’t they didn’t want to sit still they wanted to go out in the shop. That’s what they did this was their favorite class.
Automotive was their favorite class because they didn’t want to sit still. Put them out there and they, they paid attention, they did a good job. Even the ones that didn’t pay attention still learn something.
How things stopped, how brakes work, or how it stops. And how this and how that. But now, I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen… When I had my shop even the last few years, I didn’t do any engine overhauls. We didn’t do this kind of stuff anymore.
If you replace the transmission you, you, you don’t even rebuild it. You put in a remanufactured unit. But the main thing we ended up having to work on is electronics. That’s the big deal. So if you, the most thing they need to learn is how to use a laptop!
[PRESSENDO] No kidding. And these days what do they call them, digitally native?
[PRESSENDO] They do this stuff in their sleep. And we found, too, that there’s a correlation with math skills, too.
I was talking to the woman who runs our scholarship program and they did a bit of a study, and they didn’t have to be in trigonometry and calculus and stuff but just fundamental math – they don’t even have to pass the class – but they noticed because, as you and I are talking, that these are high-tech jobs there’s a lot of calculations and math and yes they’ve got the scan tools and the computers to run stuff but you still got to be able to figure stuff out in addition to using your hands…
But this tactile intelligence, that’s that so overlooked that these kids are – they’re brilliant, just in a different way than your stereotypical book or computer learner.
[HERZING] Yeah I mean that I mean that kids that just that just knew how to fix things. I mean they may have been terrible in all their English and all their other courses, but on an auto they were just awesome.
And then of course all the teachers brought their cars in, and they realized that these kids really are pretty sharp. And we would do a lot of, you know, brake jobs tune-ups, services, and flushes, and transmission flushes and and replace a differential to water pumps and this kind of stuff.
But then we started doing electronics as you get as the year progressed and toward the end of the year we showed doing electronics and and you know resetting codes and checking sensors and things like that.
And that’s when the kids started to get interested in all the electronics and and working about… on resistance and and some of the electrical stuff. And so learning all your basically electrical terms, that was a big deal.
[PRESSENDO] Well and I’d say the analytical skills, too. The kids that like to tear stuff down, apart, and put it back together or try to figure out how things work. That’s, that’s, that’s, that’s screaming for this – those are the kids who do great in this kind of stuff.
They’re, you know, working on automobiles, you can’t always figure it out. There isn’t always a code that tells you exactly what’s wrong –
[HERZING] Right. Absolutely.
[PRESSENDO] – the codes aren’t right.
And another overlooked skill, too, though the, the, the people we see really succeed, is the customer service skills too.
[HERZING] Right. We taught ‘em how to talk to people, and how to read people, and look them in the eye and shake their hands – before COVID (laughs)
[HERZING] By the way folks, we’re talking to Mike Pressendo from TechForce Foundation about getting kids and students involved in the automotive industry.
You know, it’s not just automotive. There’s, there’s air conditioning and electrical and plumbing and things like that where you can make a wonderful living.
I mean the automotive industry has been great for me Mike. I mean, I tell you what, I’ve been in the industry for forty years, and – forty-five years – and it’s been great, and I cannot ask for anything more.
It provided my family with a with a great living, and my kids do, they have a shop that that that builds and customizes you TVs right now.
[PRESSENDO] Well and it’s fun!
[PRESSENDO] People in this field love going to work. That’s one of the two phrases I heard, hear, the most is ‘I love going to work’ and ‘I love what I do’ and ‘I’m not driving a desk.’
Now there are you know people who want to do that. There’s plenty of folks who are successfully running shops, have risen up in the ranks and if they want that they can be a heavy six-figure executive in the field, too. I’ve got plenty of friends who work their way up through the ranks and that’s – that’s the other thing, that working your way up.
You may have that technical degree but they may still start you on the lube rack right. And that’s not because they’re hazing you they just gotta, you got to pay your dues. But you shine there and you’re gonna quickly rise in the shop both in status and compensation.
[HERZING] Well you know it’s always been that way. I’m even I mean… it was just a… cars are something we all have to have whether it’s automobiles. But to have, if you’re the kind of person that wonders how things work, and you want to take it apart and put it back together.
Or the things you know a little OCD about wait a minute this thing is this screw is a little loose or this thing is a little wobbly and we take care of this… I’m that way about all kind of stuff. I remember when I was a kid my dad if the he had a shop and and you know when when the washer went, when the washer broke down we fixed it. When the dryer messed up, or the refrigerator or something like that we fixed it. It was one of those things that he liked doing that.
I like fixing things and it has to do with that’s just my nature and a lot of these kids are the same way.
[PRESSENDO] Well you mentioned OCD. We’ve also found that kids, there’s a tremendous amount of diagnosis of ADD, ADHD these attention deficit disorders and stuff… I, I’m not an expert so I can’t say they’re misdiagnosed – but we know that a lot of students with that kind of diagnosis excel in this field.
[PRESSENDO] They’re not bored! They’re doing stuff with their hands –
[PRESSENDO] – they’re engaged and so again, you know they struggle in traditional classrooms, traditional environments, traditional careers. Then they discover this and they’re successful. And they realize they’re just as far as the other guys and gals.
[HERZING] Oh yeah you try to get an auto class to sit in their desks, you know for two periods in a row,
[HERZING] Forget it. Mutiny. That’s it.
And you get them out the shop, you know, we would come in and we’d learn to something we’d go out in the shop and do it. And then they all got offered jobs.
We had kids working on the lube rack at a Toyota dealer here at 16 years old. They couldn’t even drive the cars but they were working on them.
[PRESSENDO] You as an instructor you had to see this. How cool it is to see them realize that, ‘I am smart. I can be successful. This is cool!’
[PRESSENDO] You know that that’s that… they might not get that in their English class not knocking English, that’s one of the ways I make my living, but you know…
[HERZING] I know I mean it’s good, but it’s great to have that. There’s a lot of people I know… I have a friend of mine that was a doctor who actually, you know, internist and he did, and his whole bucket list was to own a repair shop.
Because he wanted to work on brakes and things. That was his, that was Leo’s favorite thing to do is work on cars. And here he is saving lives and things like that and it was just, it was just so cool. And this is with me, it was because he liked to work with his hands.
[PRESSENDO] I’ve got a friend who spent his entire professional career 30 years Global Partner of a global law firm –
[PRESSENDO] – doing law. He retired early went to Universal Technical Institute, got a technical degree, because he always liked cars.
[PRESSENDO] And you know he got to the point where ‘I can do what I want’ and that’s what he did. And he loves it.
[HERZING] Yup. I’ve got a friend that a journalist buddy of mine – his son has got an engineering degree and things like that… Electronic engineering and all this stuff and, uh, he has gone to work for the Mercedes Formula One team. And so he’s been there for a couple of years.
And so I mean you never know where you’re gonna go. But the whole trick is if you like to fix things, you like things to work a certain way, and this is broken I need to fix it rather than ignore it, then you’re the person that needs this type of training.
[PRESSENDO] Well and the pride knowing that that what you’re doing is keeping people safe, it’s getting them to work, and in the context of this COVID stuff it’s keeping the emergency responders rolling and the food trucks and the medical supplies rolling. These guys… there’s a lot of satisfaction in that.
And there’s another overlooked area, too. Women in this field.
[PRESSENDO] They are so underrepresented, yet they are highly skilled at it. You don’t have to be a brute like in the old days, there’s assistive technology for the heavy stuff but I’ve even heard some times that you know how they get their hands in places, they’ve got more patience you know, there there’s a lot of things but there’s plenty of successful women out there.
So if people come to our website, watch our videos at TechForce.org and such they’ll see we – we had -we showcase women and, and diverse populations in our stuff because it’s important for young women, young people of color to see people like themselves being successful and fulfilled in this kind of profession.
There’s plenty of opportunity, plenty of demand.
[HERZING] You’re absolutely right. You know, I had a, had a student, couple students that are female that were actually my best students. And, uh, I mean this, these girls were great. And the main thing is they had attention to detail that the guys didn’t have.
There, there wasn’t testosterone clouding their brain, okay.
[PRESSENDO] Well and they’re up against some challenges because this was the domain of the guys. And so you know they they they need, you know, they’re understanding that you know, they’re… but sometimes they mischaracterize the, getting the grunt work as being discriminated against. No. Whether you’re a guy or gal you’re gonna start in the lube rack.
[HERZING] There’s really not much grunt work. Nowadays not near… I mean there’s, there’s 20% of the work you do is heavy grunt work now. It’s 80%, you know… probably 50% of it is electronic trying to diagnose things.
[PRESSENDO] Well we run an annual competition called TechsRock that technicians from around the country get nominated by their peers and different categories, then judges pick the winners in the categories then the category winners compete for the top spot.
Our top spot winner last year was a GM tech who was, I don’t even know if she’s 21.
So all of her peers in the country, not only did they choose a woman, but a very young woman. So it just goes to show it’s not it’s not about the age, is not about gender; it’s about ability.
[HERZING] Yeah that’s true. Now, now tell you what Mikey, where can we find out more about your organization?
We’re also on all the primary social media platforms. You can search for TechForce Foundation, but TechForce.org is – a blessed – best place to go for our website.
From there there’s a plethora of information, resources and we look, we look to new ideas from the public, too.
[HERZING] Awesome! Mike thanks for joining ‘Let’s Talk Wheels’ today.
[PRESSENDO] Thanks for having me!
[HERZING] Alright folks, we got more ‘Let’s Talk Wheels’…