When I started in this industry back in 1987, things were much different. Very few shops had computers, there were no smartphones, and social media didn’t exist. Do you remember unplugging your landline phone and plugging in your dial-up modem to go on the internet? But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed, at one time or another, most of us benefited from having a mentor. My mentor helped me see the benefits of becoming an automotive technician and coached me along the way. Today, you and I are mentors to those who have followed us into the trade.
As for me, I came right out of high school and into a dealership. I worked at getting as many certifications as possible. Sometimes, I would drive 200 miles every day for a week to earn a certification. At one point, I’d completed every single course Ford had to offer. Thank God, Ford came out with its multi-media training programs. We used floppy discs for those courses. Some of the younger techs will probably have to Google “floppy disc.” Anyhow, that made learning much easier because I could do it on my schedule.
Over the years, ATRA has tried to get more students interested in our industry. We’ve had our share of successes and failures in this pursuit. It was not for lack of trying; we simply didn’t know what students wanted as we focused on attracting “new blood” into our industry. Other than tech training, we didn’t know what else would get a young tech to latch on and ride it out. So, we just continued to plow ahead, repeating the process with limited results.
It wasn’t until we moved forward with our Virtual Training Solutions (VTS) that everything changed. We now have over 300 students and well over 6,000 newly certified technicians. We have hundreds of high school and college students gaining experience before they even step into a shop. While VTS is available 24/7, allowing students total scheduling flexibility, these students also need mentors now as well as when they begin working in shops.
With that said, I’d like to introduce you to Mr. Rony Recinos. Rony is an Automotive instructor at Bakersfield College. When he attended an ATRA Tech Seminar a couple of years ago, neither Rony nor Bakersfield College was involved with ATRA. But, as every seminar speaker does, we promoted ATRA and our programs. That’s when and where we introduced Rony to our VTS program.
As I’ve gotten to know Rony better, I’ve realized that he’s a perfect example of someone who’s benefited from having a mentor and is now mentoring others. Below are some excerpts from my interview with Rony.
Lance: Who was your first mentor?
Rony: My first mentor was my dad. He was a professional baker, but he was also a shade tree mechanic. While growing up, I liked helping him and being around him. Maybe because my dad was a baker, I’ve always been a recipe guy. As a kid, if I found a food I liked, I could get the recipe, cook it, and eat it whenever I wanted. I figured there must be a recipe for a happy, successful career, as well.
I loved working on cars; so, I enrolled at the Universal Technical Institute (UTI). While I was there, I observed that the diesel instructors had broken fingers and hurt backs, and the engine performance guys ran on caffeine, and they seemed plain old grumpy. Then I noticed two “fat and happy,” Mexican instructors. It turned out that they taught Automatic Transmissions and Hydraulics. One of them, Mr. Hernandez, had been married over 30 years to the same wife, and she never had to work outside the home. He said it was because every car had a transmission that needed to be repaired or serviced sooner or later. I’d found the recipe and the career path I wanted.
- A career that’s in demand.
- A career that would provide an excellent living for my future family and me.
- A career that would put a smile on my face even after 30 years of doing it!
Lance: When did you know you wanted to be a tech instructor?
Rony: Throughout the years, I’d often thought about teaching. Then back in 2017, I received a phone call from a former employer, Randy Musick. He was the previous owner of Precision Transmission Parts and Musick’s Transmission in Bakersfield, California. Dan Johnson, the then-current instructor at Bakersfield College, had contacted Randy to see if he knew of anyone to fill a teaching position. I’d thought about going into teaching in another five years, but I applied. When I got the call from the college, I knew this was a door that God was opening, and I needed to run through it.
Lance: Did your experience as a student at UTI affect your role as an instructor?
Rony: I attended Universal Technical Institute in Phoenix, Arizona and graduated in December of 1993 with an AA degree. This August, I’m beginning my fourth full year here at Bakersfield College and hoping to give back to the automotive industry for the next few decades.
The most important lesson I can give to my students is to find what you love and do it. When we were young, many of us got misguided advice from adults around us, “Enjoy being a kid because when you get older, you’ll be ‘stuck’ in a job.” I also remember being told by so-called counselors, “You have two choices in life – do what you enjoy and be broke or do what pays well and be miserable.”
After 26 years, I’m here to tell you that there’s a third option. Find what you enjoy doing, never stop learning about it, network with smarter people, and be the best you can be at it – the money will take care of itself. We live in the best country in the world, and there’s no other place I’ve visited on this planet where you can dream of a better future and make it happen! There’ll always be a transmission out there with your name on it, and it’s coming for you, and you’ll need help. Lastly, don’t forget to be humble and kind to others. Ask for help when you need it and offer help when you’re asked!
Lance: I’m not too familiar with the Bakersfield College automotive department. What does teaching here look like?
Rony: Our department at Bakersfield College strives to dedicate our best to the students. The maximum class size of our advanced courses is 21 students, allowing all our students to have ample hands-on instruction. This is a key piece of the puzzle that ensures success and builds confidence in our students.
As the Powertrain Instructor, I teach several classes: Auto B48 Manual Transmissions, Auto B40 Steering Suspension and Alignment, Auto B43 Brakes, and Auto B46 Automatic Transmissions. These courses are each offered as a morning or afternoon class. So, I usually have 42 students – 21 per class. Due to COVID-19, this last semester was a challenge, but ATRA and VTS came through for us as we went to online training!
ATRA Adds Water
Rony recently found himself and his class in need of some industry tools, specifically for transmissions. Ironically, at ATRA, we were in the process of clearing out our library and our shop – kind of a summer clearing before we get back to the grind. We had a dyno that was gifted to ATRA back in 1992. Coincidentally, it was the picture on the very first cover of GEARS Magazine 28 years ago!
We felt this provided ATRA with an excellent opportunity to give back to our industry – Plant the Seed, Add Water, and Watch It Grow. So, we packed up the dyno and donated it to Bakersfield College. Rony was excited to receive it, and the smile on his face was priceless. You could feel this was the right thing to do and the right time to do it.
Rony excitedly stated, “With the addition of the Dynamometer, our students will now have the opportunity to see the fruit of their labor. For safety and liability reasons, we can no longer have students test drive vehicles on the road. With the dyno, we’ll be able to run their transmissions through the shift points and simulate driving conditions. Now they can get the same great feeling we get in the industry when we repair a transmission, and it works perfectly on a road test. I believe it will give them a greater sense of accomplishment. I know that the feeling I get after a job works properly is unreplaceable. It’s almost addictive, going from one good job to the next one.”
When I asked Rony if he had any mentoring to pass on to our readers, he replied, “Our industry is in an unprecedented state of change. Higher minimum wages have eliminated many entry-level technician positions. Today, we must be electrical engineers and use lab scopes to diagnose vehicles. What I’d advise shop owners, managers, and current technicians to do is do not lower the standards, keep the bar high!”
Rony closed with, “We need to expect more from our entry-level technicians. Many transmissions are fixed with solenoids and updates and by using advanced diagnostic procedures. Make sure to assess whether your techs can use a lab scope. Our electrical and engine performance departments all use Pico Scopes for live training on vehicles, so the students have real hands-on experience. I strongly recommend that your new-hire technicians have an AA Degree from a fully accredited college like Bakersfield College.”
At ATRA, we spend every day trying to find ways to improve – more tech, videos, in-person training, articles, and growing a new breed of technicians. But we all can be better mentors. Plant the Seed, Add Water, and Watch It Grow.