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Queens Chronicle

Auto technicians flourish in Queens

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Posted: Thursday, March 11, 2010 12:00 am

The weakened economy has been very, very good to auto technicians, who are repairing more older vehicles than ever before. Just ask students at a technical school in Whitestone, who can’t wait to graduate and get high-paying jobs.

Lincoln Technical Institute set up shop four and one-half years ago at the Automotive Education and Training Center, built in 2005 by the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association. Mark Schienberg, GNYADA president, said the facility has far exceeded the group’s expectations.

Although the center also provides training to auto dealers and their employees for conferences and workshops, the focus is on the 600 students enrolled at Lincoln Tech in a 13-month program. “The demand for repair service is up,” Schienberg said. “With more older cars on the road, there is more work for entry-level positions at dealerships and private garages.”

He noted there is a shortage of 50,000 technicians — don’t call them mechanics anymore because they work more with computers than parts — around the country with an average salary of $49,000 after a couple of years on the job. “Some earn over $100,000 after five years,” Schienberg said. “It’s a great profession.”

Students can attend one of three six-hour sessions a day, Monday through Friday in the facility located off 20th Avenue and Petracca Place. Many have part-time jobs.

About 5 percent of the students are women and that number of 30 females seems to be growing, according to Eddie Prosper, director of admissions.

Trainees wear clean blue uniforms and work boots and the large repair area is remarkably clean with no sign of grease. Teacher Steve Marra says those days are long gone. “We don’t work with much grease anymore,” he said. “Oil changes are even done less often now because of the grade of the oil and efficiency of the engines.”

One of the students, Sam Yoon, 23, of the Bronx last worked as a bartender, but said he’d rather deal with machines than drunk people. On off hours he works security at clubs.

Yoon doesn’t mind the commute to Whitestone and is happy with his classes, saying, “you get what you put into it” at the technical school. His future plans include working for a dealership.

The school has a fleet of 26 shop vehicles, including three hybrids. Teachers can also bug a car to create a problem that students must pinpoint and fix.

Another student, Calvin Lewis, 22, of Forest Hills, did security work and last worked at Starbucks. “I’ve always been interested in cars,” he said. “I wanted to get good knowledge of the systems and the salaries did attract me.”

He hopes to eventually go back to college, major in engineering and design fuel systems. The emphasis, of course, is on highly computerized automobiles, although Lewis says students still have to learn all about a car’s systems, just as a doctor has to learn all the parts of the human body to see what can go wrong.

Arley Adams, 20, of Brooklyn, takes two trains and a bus to get to Lincoln Tech and chose the school because of its professionalism and reputation. “I’ve always liked cars and the salaries attracted me too,” Adams said.

He hopes to land a job with a BMW dealership because their cars “offer more power in a tighter package.” He works part-time at an Auto Zone store from 5 to 11 p.m.

Adams is challenged by how the industry has changed over the years. “In the old days, workers were mechanics because they were parts changers,” he said. “Today we get a solid foundation on the computer systems and touch on all types of cars, including hybrids.”

All three students would like to work in the New York metropolitan area but are willing to move. “I’m flexible,” Adams said. “If there’s a good job opportunity in Maryland, I’ll move there.”

Approximately 82 percent of the students get hired after graduation, many through leads provided by Lincoln Tech, according to Kevin Carman, auto supervisor at the school.

With cars now being kept an average of seven to 10 years, according to Marra, repairs are inevitable. And that’s just what keeps Adams, Lewis and Yoon on their career path.

Welcome to the discussion.