Gerardo Martinez’s foot barely reached the gas pedal on his grandfather’s old pickup truck the first time he revved the engine.
But he instantly fell in love with that powerful sound.
“I was five or six years old and he had this big old truck,” remembered Martinez, who will be a sophomore at Milwaukee’s Tenor High School in the fall. “It was a 1969 GMC pickup with a 327-inch Corvette engine in it. He would let me sit in it and step on the gas. I’ve been a car guy ever since.”
Martinez was one of the 12 Milwaukee-area high school students who completed a three-day summer camp at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) where they learned skills required to prepare for a career in the transportation service industry.
“These students are learning about these opportunities sooner rather than later,” said Reggie Parks, retention coach for MATC Drive, an initiative launched by the college in July 2017 to build awareness of career opportunities in the transportation servicing sector in the Milwaukee area.
Guided by MATC instructors, the students gathered at the Al Hurvis/PEAK Transportation Center at the college’s Downtown Milwaukee Campus July 24-26 to look under the hoods and under the chassis of various types of vehicles, learned about electric vehicle technology, 3D printing, and vehicle diagnostic and maintenance procedures, and heard from industry professionals with Tesla, Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota and other manufacturers.
“All the guests we had and all the instructors were really knowledgeable,” said Will Brandt, who will be a senior at Carmen High School of Science and Technology in Milwaukee. “Everything they showed us tied back to the love of cars.”
On July 26, the final day of the camp, the participants received a completion certificate, MATC gear and other items from AAA and NAPA auto parts. They heard about financial assistance available at MATC, including the full-ride Ellen and Joe Checota MATC Scholarship Program, which is designed to get students into the workforce as fast as possible. They also heard from Jon Petrie, the owner of Tender Car Auto Collision.
“Cars are getting more and more complex,” Petrie said. “There is such a high demand for all kinds of qualified and skilled technicians. And you can make a lot of money.”
Some technicians at Tender Car, which services about 200 cars each day, make more than $100,000 a year, Petrie said. “There’s a terrible shortage right now and this is something for people who really have a passion for cars.”
According to the National Automobile Dealers Association, around 76,000 auto mechanic positions open up every year compared to 39,000 workers coming out of technical colleges or training programs.
Martinez plans to make cars his career. “My uncle is in a couple car clubs, and my father is a mechanic. Together we work on a couple project cars in our garage. My dream is to someday have my own shop. I know I can make that happen.”
This article originally appeared here.