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Diesel Technology with Advanced Technology Institute: Season 2, Episode 9


Where Is Advanced Technology Institute Located?



5700 Southern Blvd.

Virginia Beach, VA 23462

Contact ATI

Phone: 888-346-2315

Their Hours

MON-FRI: 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM

SAT: 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM


Joining us today is Mike Ambrose, director of admissions at  Advanced Technology Institute in Virginia Beach, Virginia

ATI has been educating tomorrow’s workforce since 1993 and is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC). Advanced Technology Institute trains its students to enter the workforce in automotive, diesel and heavy equipment, HVAC, welding, and commercial driving.

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Don't have time to listen? Read the transcript!

Bob Martin: Joining us today in this edition of Imagine America Radio is Mr. Mike Ambrose, director of admissions of ATI in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Today’s topic of Imagine America Radio: diesel technician careers. As a leading provider of diesel technician training, we are very pleased to have, as our guest, Mike Ambrose and to be showcasing ATI.

First of all, may we call you Mike?

Mike Ambrose: Absolutely, please.

Bob: We want to thank you for joining us. We’re looking forward to today’s discussion. Let’s start the discussion by you informing our audience, and outlining for that group, what exactly is a diesel technician and what’s their daily routine? What’s it like?

Mike: Well, thanks for having me, Lee and Bob. I appreciate that first.

And the heavy vehicle and diesel technician does a variety of work. They obviously work on diesel engines. However, we prepare our students to work on things that we don’t think about all the time: hydraulics, transport refrigeration systems, electronic components found in today’s complex vehicles. This could include mobile equipment, construction equipment, agricultural equipment, trucks, buses, ships, trains.

Another thing that we don’t think about—and I think it’s the world’s best-kept secret—is standby power generators. Our program gives students a leg-up to use, I guess maybe as a springboard, to get into standby generators for places like Cat or Kohler, Cummins. Unfortunately, because of what’s going on with the pandemic right now, we see hospitals—and think about just the COVID patients. However, these places—they can’t be without power. Nursing homes, police stations, fire departments. And they’re generally run by a diesel engine or natural gas. And there’s a lot of opportunity there. I like to say that if it moves, or moves anything, then we probably help you fix it. And it’s probably powered by a diesel engine.

Lee Doubleday: Wow, that’s really cool, Mike. And I appreciate you telling us more about what a diesel technician does and the different types of machines they may be working on. So, I’m talking to Mike Ambose, director of admissions, Advanced Technology Institute in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

So, tell me something. What does the career outlook look like for diesel technicians? Maybe on a national level—what does the national average that a diesel technician can expect to make in a year?

Mike: That’s a good question. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the outlook has a projected growth, from 2018 to 2028, a growth of about 5% and estimated jobs of almost 300,000. So it’s growing at a good rate. And the median national average [annual salary] for a diesel service technician is $47,350. So, I look at it like this. Students can come into a program like ours and, in 15 months, graduate and have an opportunity to get employed, because there is an abundance of jobs and a good earning wage.

Lee: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s great. Like you said, a student can come into a situation like what you guys have there and be done in 15 months and enter the workforce at a pretty well-paying career.

So, tell me something. With diesel technicians being in such high demand, it seems like something worth getting an education in. I have sort of a two-parted question for you. Number one, should someone go to school to learn how to become a diesel technician? And number two, how long is a typical diesel technician program?

Mike: Okay, yep, a good question. Well, as I stated, our program is 15 months. Students go to class four days a week. And we actually are a college that offers an opportunity to not only get their specialized diploma and in heavy vehicle diesel, but you can get your associate of occupational science degree, if you choose to do that. And a lot of companies like to have that degree to move up into management. And that’s just another three months for that.

And as far as your question of is it something worth getting an education, yes. Because I just shared with you the job outlook and the median Bureau of Labor Statistics average salary. But with these vehicles today, they’re very complex and computerized systems. We’ve seen the new increase of clean-diesel technology. And, so, getting an education is a worthy investment. The industry needs a new generation with the skill set to make a difference day one when they hit the job. So, you need to have that training that just can’t be found, back in the old days of 30, 40, 50 years ago that you’d learn on a family farm. They’re just completely different. They’re rolling computers now. And we’ve got the equipment so that students can get the hands-on knowledge, but also have the tech savvy to go out and make that difference day one.

Lee: Glad you mentioned that. I think there’s a misconception about not just diesel technicians, but also automotive technicians, that the misconception of the guy that’s turning the wrenches. And it is exactly like what you said, where cars are essentially rolling computers—cars and trucks. And they need somebody who knows to both work the technical side of it, but also the mechanical side of it as well.

Mike: Yeah, and Lee, I’d like to just kind of piggyback what you’re saying there because a lot of people think about the cars today with, like, lane assistance and backup and all that stuff. Well, that started in tractor-trailer trucks before it did the personal automotives.

Lee: Oh, good point.

Mike: We had this technology before them. They’ve taken this technology and now put it into passenger vehicles. That’s why we need the person that has the tech savvy that can work on multiple types of equipment, but also have a real-world shop where you can work with your hands also.

Lee: That’s really cool. I didn’t know that about how that sort of started and evolved from the trucking industry, but I guess it makes sense. I mean, everybody driving down 95 to come to your school is worried about the trucks on the road, right? I mean.

Mike: Absolutely.

Lee: Yeah. It definitely makes total sense. That’s pretty cool. I didn’t know that. Okay, so now, this strikes me as a—I’m glad you mentioned those things.

Now, let’s pretend now that I’m a student. And maybe I’m in high school or I’m an adult sitting here thinking about changing my career. What are three or four things that I should be looking for in a school that offers diesel technology? Now, that could be—I know—either your school, hopefully your school, or any other school across the country. Is it accreditation that maybe I’m looking for? Is it the tools that are used in the shops that I should be looking at? Is it the relationship that the school has with employers? What are a few things that I should looking for in a school that offers diesel tech in I’m interested in becoming a diesel technician?

Mike: Well, actually, you hit the nail on the head with a few of those. You do want to look at accreditation, obviously. Certainly, I’m a firm believer that any education’s better than no education. However, there are differences and you want to make sure that you’re looking at an accredited college or university or technical school.

You want to, certainly, see what industry relations are built. Some schools, like ours—we have a very strong relationship with Freightliner, Detroit Diesel, and Western Star, and that’s because of a sponsorship relationship program we have Excel Truck Group, which is a big group out of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, where our students can gain valuable credentials with Freightliner, Western Star, and Detroit Diesel while they’re in school.

But along with that, there’s other certifications that they can gain. And that’s what students want to look at, is what additional credentials can they get while they’re in school that helps them stand out for somebody competing in a job for them—and that’s why we have multiple different credentials that are available to students. That’s crucially important.

You also want to look at, are you working on not just one type of engine in the diesel industry? You’re working with a lot of different manufacturers, which we are. We’re giving students experience with Navistar, Detroit, Cat, Cummins, John Deere—experience with all those. And we want to have a diverse education, where you’re not just—a lot of schools that teach diesel teach it one specific way for over-the-road trucking, for instance.

The thing that I love about our program—because we understand that most of our students coming in here are going to be coming out of high school. And I hate to be the bearer of bad news for them, but they’re going to have to work for 40 or 45 years. So we want them to have the diversity and flexibility to move throughout industries. That’s why we don’t separate ag from industrial, over-the-road trucking, and marine. We incorporate it all together so you can gain that diverse knowledge of hydraulics and transport refrigeration systems and etc. So those are questions that they want to ask.

And then, my belief is the biggest thing is every school has books and tools and uniforms. They’ve got training aides. They have those things. You want to find out about the instructors. The instructors are the key—all the knowledge and time that they have spent in the industry. Are they full-time instructors? What’s their tenure at the college? And what is their experience? And how available are they to the student population? It’s just really important. And I can tell you that ours are phenomenal. We are a small school. We don’t have 2, 3, 4, 5, 10,000 students at ATI. So, our instructors are here. We keep our class sizes small—20 students or less. But they build a relationship with that instructor, and instructors are here to help them additional time if need be. They will actually have students stay late or come in early. We have a free tutoring available on Friday the students, as long as they have it okay with their instructor, they can come in and get one-on-one instruction with them. And I think that’s invaluable.

Lee: Yeah, I agree. Obviously, one-on-one time with an instructor would be worth a lot. So, what I hear you saying is that the accreditation of the accrediting group of the schools associated with this, that’s important to make sure that they’re accredited. Number two, obviously, relationships with employers, because they want to be able to make sure that you can get a job after graduating school. Number three, equipment is important, but maybe what’s more important is the instructors in each of those classrooms and how they deal with students and what their work experience looks like and how they kind of handle themselves in the classroom is being really important when looking at a school.

So, moving on, I just pretended that I am a student who was interested in diesel technology. Now—this is my last question before turning things over to Bob—let’s pretend now that I work in a high school. Because, as I’m sure that you are aware, maybe you get a certain percentage of students that come from a high school or workforce or VA office; they’re maybe in contact with people who are looking for direction.

What are three or four personality traits that make a great diesel technician, that may help identify people who would make a great fit for this career choice?

Mike: I would say, first, we always have students that say they’re a hands-on learner, and that’s wonderful because a lot of this is hands-on. But I guess hands-on, but also has a mechanical aptitude and some tech savvy. Somebody that’s realistic, someone that’s sensible, and probably somebody that can work alone or in a group—that has that personality that can work in both situations.

Bob: We’re talking to Mike Ambrose with ATI, Virginia Beach, Virginia. Today’s topic on Imagine America Radio: diesel technician careers. Mike, here are my takeaways from today’s conversation with you, which, by the way, was excellent. We really enjoyed it.

The first takeaway that I have is that diesel technician careers are in extremely high demand right now, with jobs really available for qualified students nationwide, and in the Virginia area. And I think you mentioned a figure, within the next 10 years, of 300,000 jobs and a median salary of technicians of $47,350—not too bad, not too shabby.

My second take away is ATI is a nationally accredited school providing education training to students right now to apply to their jobs, and interested students should go to the ATI website for further additional information.

My third takeaway is, listening to you, diesel technician careers are essential—using the jargon of today’s vernacular, COVID. Diesel technicians are absolutely critical and essential in every facet of our community.

Finally, anyone that wants to get more information about ATI, diesel careers, and how they can get started, that’s in our audience—guidance counselors, parents, teachers, whatever it may be—are really going to be urged to contact ATI directly, Virginia Beach.

But what I’d like to do is call upon you—if you wouldn’t mind, Mike—to give us out your contact information so if they want to, they could call or email you directly.

Mike: Absolutely, yeah, we would love them to certainly check out our website. Our website is auto.edu and we’ve got an 800 number, which is (800) 468-1093. Anyone that’s listening—instructor, guidance counselor, parents, students—you’re welcome to email me personally, and I will make you this promise that I will contact you back within 24 hours. I’m a stickler on it because I know that if your question is important to you—I know that whenever I contact somebody, it’s an important question I have to ask someone—I want to get back to you and it’s simply mambrose@auto.edu and, again, please check out our website.

One of the things, Bob, that I really like that you brought up here is the essential employees, and it certainly has shown in the diesel industry how essential diesel technicians are, because we’ve got to keep the goods moving. We’ve got to keep the personal protective equipment flowing by train, or ship, trucks, and getting it to the frontline workers and the food to the grocery stores and having the transport refrigeration units keep the food cold and etc. So, I’m very happy that you brought that up.

Bob: Well, I can’t think of a single thing that they’re talking about in the national news—whether it’s moving the masks that are so essential to hospitals, whether it’s making sure that we’re building enough and transporting enough of the equipment to the ventilators. What struck home with me was your particular conversation about hospitals falling back on diesel technology in order to power it. What are you going to do if a hospital doesn’t have the power? You’re out of luck. You’re completely out of luck.

So, I want to thank today’s guest, Mike Ambrose. It’s a really compelling conversation with ATI in Virginia Beach. We also want to thank our podcast audience, which is taking time out of their very, very busy and hectic schedules to listen to today’s episode of Imagine America Radio.

On behalf of my colleague, Lee Doubleday, and myself, please be safe and we’ll be talking to you all again very soon. Goodbye.


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