Maryland nonprofit teaches ex-convicts the skills of auto mechanics

Vehicles for Change is a nonprofit organization in Maryland that provides low-cost used cars to underprivileged residents to help them get to work. The organization faced a problem when it was difficult to recondition up to 40 donated vehicles a month due to a lack of service technicians. To address this issue, the organization added a service technician training element to its program in 2015, with a specific focus on training individuals who were previously incarcerated, as many of them could not get jobs after release due to their criminal records.

The program lasts for four months, during which students are paid to attend class for eight hours a day, five days a week, and work on vehicles. The program has an 89% completion rate and a 95% placement rate, with most graduates going to work in franchised dealerships. The organization has trained over 220 technicians and plans to train up to 120 more this year.

The auto industry has a shortage of automotive technicians, and the Vehicles for Change program is helping to meet this need. The program is certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence and is helping individuals pursue a career as a service technician. Many people believe that they need a four-year college degree to succeed, but automotive service cannot be outsourced or automated.

One graduate of the Vehicles for Change program, Iyana King, said that she knew she did not want to go to college but wanted to pursue a change. Her mother gave her information about the program, and King, who was always interested in cars, was hooked. King is an outlier in that she has never been incarcerated and is a woman; only about 10% of the program’s graduates are female.

Vehicles for Change has partnered with the National Automobile Dealers Association, and the dealership organization plans to introduce the organization and its technician training program to its members. Schwartz and industry partners have developed a virtual-reality training program, which could potentially train 150,000 people a year in the matter of three years.

Vehicles for Change is helping to address a significant need, said Mike Coley, president of the ASE Education Foundation. The shortage of service technicians in the industry is a concern, and the organization is doing a significant service to both individuals who were previously incarcerated and the industry as a whole. More dealerships will learn about Vehicles for Change in the coming months, and the supply of service technicians coming out of the program is set to expand exponentially in the future.

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