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Car Mechanics Learn Another Skill--Communication

From Associated Press

Nobody loves to hate people like people love to hate auto mechanics.

If your car is broken, you need it fixed right away. But you sometimes can’t get it fixed right away and it costs too much when it is fixed--if it was fixed right.

And you can’t really understand what that mechanic is saying anyway. Is all that gobbledygook just the cover for a rip-off?

It’s all a matter of communication, according to the head of an award-winning school for auto mechanics, who says communication skills are just as important in the curriculum as gaskets and spark plugs.

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“One of the most difficult things is to be able to communicate in a two-way fashion,” said Richard Diklich, coordinator of the automobile technology program at Longview Community College.

“There is a basic element of distrust on both sides. I’ve found that customers often don’t want to have their cars fixed because it is going to be an inconvenience and expensive. So they let it go, and the problem gets worse and it becomes more expensive.”

Liberal Arts Classes

The Longview auto tech student spends about two-thirds of the time working on mechanics and about one-third in liberal arts classes.

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“We try to work with the technical student on communication skills, consumer attitudes, work ethic and attitude as a part of what we do,” Diklich said.

Students study, for example, composition and reading or speech or American history along with courses on diagnosis and repair of automotive brake systems.

Longview this year won the annual competition of the Motor Vehicle Manufacturer’s Assn. and the American Vocational Assn. Industry Planning Council. The school had finished second in the prestigious competition last year.

Students enrolled at Longview have the option of following one program that is closely linked with General Motors, Ford or Toyota. They get half their training at the school and spend half their time working in the shop at a manufacturer’s dealership. They later find jobs working for a dealership.

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Students can also get a more general training that qualifies them to work in other repair shops, such as service stations.

Latest in Equipment

On a tour of the school’s new 22,000-square-foot building, instructor Bill Fairbanks shows off a huge garage with several ports for cars, the latest in diagnostic equipment, well-equipped classrooms and well-stocked parts rooms.

“They won’t find anything out there (in equipment) that we don’t have here,” said Fairbanks.

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The parking lot at Longview is filled with cars donated to the school for students to work on, including a late model Cadillac with the latest in on-board computer technology.

“The technology of the car has increased,” said Diklich. “The amount of material we have to teach has more than doubled since the 1970s. But they come from the high school and now have had experience with computers and with electronics. It is still basically using diagnostic procedures to find out what is wrong.”

Demand for qualified mechanics is high, particularly in rural areas. General Motors estimates a shortage of 125,000 mechanics qualified to work on its cars.

“Training has become more necessary,” Diklich said. “The manufacturers recognize this, and they have begun looking to the colleges and universities for help. The manufacturers can train the current model technology. But they can’t develop the background for the future.”

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