Josimar Contreras had been working at the front desk of a Miami-area hotel for almost two years when his hours were cut due to COVID-19. The 22-year-old found himself working just one to two days a week in what he felt was a dead-end job.
He knew two things: he liked working with his hands and college was not for him. So when a friend told him about a new program that would equip him to be an auto technician, Contreras jumped at the chance.
“I wanted to be able to provide for my family financially and not hop around in retail jobs or jobs where I don’t have a set pathway to a career that will be long-term,” Contreras said.
The two-year program, launched by the Warren Henry Auto Group in partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools, provides on-site training for up to 20 students at Warren Henry’s Jaguar Land Rover North Dade dealership.
Contreras is one of 15 students in the cohort who will work with an instructor both in a classroom and shop located at the dealership.
“They’re learning everything from A to Z, from something as simple as changing a tire to something as complex as rebuilding a transmission and an engine,” said course instructor Ronald Miranda.
The two-year course follows a curriculum that prepares students for professional ASE certification and costs $5,600, with financial aid available. Unlike some automotive courses, this one is taught completely onsite; the classroom is inside the dealership and students will apply their lessons on vehicles just a few feet away inside the dealer’s air-conditioned garage.
Miranda also graduated from a technician program in 1996. He went on to a 22-year career as a mechanic and has taught at other similar technical programs throughout the county. His students, he said, remind him a lot of himself.
Traditional school was not his strong suit and like Contreras, he tried college for some time before realizing it wasn’t for him.
“If it wasn’t for a course like this one, I wouldn’t be making any money,” Miranda said. “I would not have succeeded in an office job; I would not have succeeded going to college.”
Raising awareness about a lucrative vocational field that doesn’t require an expensive degree was a big motivator for Warren Henry, said Erik Day, the company’s chief financial officer.
Students who graduate from the course and take the required certifications can become master technicians earning around $90,000 or more.
“We felt that message needed to be out there,” said Day. “We wanted to make everyone aware of the income opportunity, address the major shortage of technicians and prepare for the future and evolving changes in the mobility and transportation sector.”
The industry is undergoing a severe shortage of qualified technicians, said Day, with a need for as many as 40,000 technicians. That number is expected to grow.
Miranda said dealerships and garages anxious for workers often try to recruit his students. Despite the need and lucrative pay, Miranda thinks the career is often dismissed since it requires physical labor and getting dirty.
While he recruits alongside other companies and colleges at career fairs in high schools throughout the county, he prefers not to sell the career to anyone. Students who applied to the program were screened through an interview where they had to show interest in the career. The only other requirement is a high school diploma or GED.
Miranda has been teaching the class since the end of August. The course is virtual for now but is expected to move in-person in October. When students are able to meet him in person, they’ll spend a few hours working on theory and materials in a classroom, and then they’ll go downstairs to the dealership’s first floor where they’ll get to apply the lessons they learned on real vehicles in the shop under supervision from other trained technicians.
Several of the technicians currently working at the Jaguar Land Rover dealership were students in Miranda’s classes. Like Luis Bussi. The 25-year-old worked at a Walgreens pharmacy when he met Miranda.
“I wasn’t happy and I knew I wanted to do something different,” Bussi said. “Now I’m much happier and the money’s good.”
Back in his classroom on a recent Friday, Miranda went over terminology with his students. He talks to them about the growing appeal of electric cars and the increased danger for technicians. But don’t worry, he tells them, I’ll teach you that.
“We’re always teaching them this is not the end,” said Miranda. “It’s only the beginning.”
NO COLLEGE REQUIRED
The next cohort of the Warren Henry Automotive Technician Training Program convenes in fall 2022. To stay informed about future applications, visit Miami-Dade County Public Schools website careerinayear.com or contact instructor Ronald Miranda at [email protected]
Other local technical programs for high-paying careers include:
▪ Tesla START, a 12-week program at Miami-Dade College that trains students to be technicians with the electric car company. For more information email [email protected] or apply online at mdc.edu/tesla/
▪ The Braman Automotive Training Center Program provides 1,800 hours of training and a paid internship in an area of automotive specialization. If you are interested in obtaining additional information call 305-324-6070 ext 7089.
▪ Associated Builders and Contractors pairs applicants to numerous apprenticeships and training programs in construction and other trades. Miami’s ABC chapter is located at 2890 NW 79th Ave in Doral and more information can be found online at abc.org.