Who's Gonna Fix My Car?

Back when New Hampshire was new, completing the sixth grade was a respected accomplishment. That done, it was either back to the farm full time or enter an apprenticeship (which included blacksmithing, the law, and medicine). By the 1950s, if you didn't hold a bachelor's degree in something—anything—your employment options were pretty slim. An associate degree from a two-year vocational-technical institution was a distant and shabby second best. Well, horse hockey!

Sure, 30 years ago it was possible for someone just out of high school to land a good job in a factory, work that could pay $75,000-$100,000 a year and offer six weeks of paid vacation to boot (according to Patrick Anderson of Anderson Economic Group, East Lansing, MI). Those jobs are fast evaporating and are unlikely to recondense in the near future. So what preparation can we offer high school students who have zero interest in spending four years at a university, only to emerge with lots of theoretical knowledge—and lots of debt from student loans?

Deserved Respect
We could begin by raising the one-year certificate and two-year associate programs to their rightful positions of respectability. Encourage students during their high school years to go for training in, say, automotive mechanics, and to be proud of their abilities once on the job.

If you read Barbara Goode's account of the current state of automotive sophistication, you will know that Uncle Fred who could gap a set of plugs in his sleep would be out of his depth today. Ditto the person who arrives to repair a kitchen range that costs more than any vehicle I've ever bought. Not to mention the refrigerator, an appliance that will soon be smarter than many of today's computers. Sensors are behind this transformation. Vehicles are safer, more efficient, and more comfortable. The new kitchen ranges can reduce your chances of setting fire to your cookware—or your house. And as for refrigerators, well, before long they will warn you away from a suspicious carton of milk.

Television repair is admittedly a different story. The TVs most of us buy are getting cheaper—too cheap to bother fixing. Still, I bet those who opt for those enormous flat-screen models would be hesitant to treat them as throwaways. And the notion of using a car for two or three years before discarding it makes me queasy.

The Sensor-Savvy Repair Person
So the person I want to fix my car will be someone with far more than a couple sets of wrenches and a general flair for automotive repair. This person will know more about Hondas than about the Hanseatic League (but could always study up on the latter if it suddenly became fascinating). Much of this knowledge will be gained in the classroom, where the purpose and functions of all manner of sensors will be explored. This person will use a computer as a diagnostic tool as readily as I use the telephone.

Finally, this wonderful, reliable, and educated repairman—or woman—will enjoy the prestige due those who actually do work that makes life better for all of us.

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