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America's skills gap: Season 1, Episode 5

America's skills gap with Universal technical institute - Season 1, Episode 5


Universal Technical Institute

Universal Technical Institute is a leading provider in automotive technology, auto collision repair, CNC machining, diesel technology, and welding education.

Rich Garti

Our guest on this episode of Imagine America Radio is Rich Garti, director of operations for Universal Technical Institute in Sacramento, California.

Imagine America Foundation

The Imagine America Foundation has been supporting students and the career college sector for nearly 40 years!

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Lee Doubleday: Today on Imagine America Radio we’ll be focusing on skills gaps and how the workforce is evolving, exploring the current growing skills gap, and understanding what major manufacturers are looking for in the new workforce. Joining us today is Rich Garti.

Rich Garti is the director of education and operations at Universal Technical Institute in Sacramento, California. He’s worked in higher education for 20 years and is an advocate for skills trades and technology. Rich oversees the auto, diesel, collision, and manufacturer-specific advanced training or MSAT programs at Universal Technical Institute. Thank you for joining us today, Rich.

Rich Garti: Thanks for having me, Lee.

Lee: Now, Rich, the skilled trades are changing. Technology has transformed the transportation and fabrication industries, creating exciting career opportunities for those with the right skills. For example, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that between 2016 and 2026 the number of job openings for auto and diesel technicians will exceed 1.2 million. Right now, the transportation industry is undergoing a major transformation and it’s rapidly evolving with enhancements in electronics and computers on vehicles, etc.

A high school diploma used to be enough to get a job as a mechanic, especially if you had vocational training in high school. But today’s automotive technicians, however, need advanced technical training. Cars are complex today. Master mechanics commonly face problems that would have required an engineering degree a few years ago. New powertrain technologies, hybrids, infotainment systems, electric-powered vehicles, and advanced engine design are just a few of the issues today’s technicians face every single day.

So, Rich, we’re hoping you can give us some insight into the skills gap issue. What type of changes do you see happening for major automotive and diesel manufacturers? And why is there a growing demand for skilled technicians?

Rich: Well, Lee, it’s multifaceted. I think, starting off, you hit on a lot of them already just in that narrative. When you think about technology and the way technology is moving today, it’s not affecting just one industry. It’s affecting all industries. So when you’re looking at that ever-changing technology, there has to be education to provide what that change is. I’m not taking anything away from high school programs, and we work with a lot of our high schools and their programs, but we bridge that gap for what’s not being done in high school and to hit the change that we’re seeing with technology.

On top of the technology aspect, if you look long-term, fuel costs are just consistently rising. In the last couple of decades, that makes a lot of change for manufacturers because they need to update their fuel system technology and get their engines more efficient, and then obviously it helps for the vehicle’s cost of fuel so on and so forth.

I think another big one that comes in, definitely not last to what we’ve already listed, is emission standards. There’s a big focus on the environment across the country at this time, and emission standards are constantly changing depending on the state. And that also again demands the industry to make change to what they have with their vehicles. You’re again looking at that change and there has to be a gap that’s bridged and that’s where we feel UTI plays a large role in that.

We are consistently trying to stay on the cutting edge of what happens in the industry so that we can provide the education to all of the students we have going through our programs. And then, in turn, as they step out into the industry, they’re more prepared for what’s happening at the time and not necessarily things that have taken place 5, 10 years ago.

Bob Martin: Rich, this is Bob jumping back in. You talk about these changes and I’m fascinated by this emission issue. Everybody that’s going to be listening to this podcast, they see it every day when they’re driving their car, when they’re getting their safety inspections.

But what I’m interested in, what I want to follow up on is, if you take these changes at the industries, how are you able to adapt to them? Are you using advisory groups, or what is it you’re using internally within your own organization to accommodate those and to acclimate your students to those?

Rich: Yeah, that’s a great question, Bob. UTI’s been around since 1965, and over a long history of what we’ve done with our campuses and as we’ve expanded around the country, we’ve had to stay connected to the industry. And we do that in a couple of different ways.

We have business alliances through our home office, and they work consistently with our manufacturer partners. (And we have a lot of those partners obviously.) And we’ve consistently worked with those partners for years. In addition to that, each one of our campuses—on a biannual basis—performs a program advisory committee. And that’s what you mentioned, Bob. “Do you have advisory committees?” We do. We work with our PACs, which we call Program Advisory Committee, or PAC for short. And that’s how we get what’s happening in the industry. The PAC members are made up of a bunch of different areas. They could be technicians in the industry, they could be employers that are partnered with us, they could be part of the manufacturers that are partnered with us. And as we have those biannual meetings, they take place for each one of the programs we have: For us here in Sacramento, auto, diesel, and then collision.

And as we have those meetings, we pretty much talk about everything that we offer as far as the program. We talk about our program objectives, our program outcomes, our program length. We talk about curriculum content. We talk about our facility. We talk about the safety of the facility, and just the overall learning environment. And with those biannual meetings, it allows us to document feedback, provide minutes, and that’s all put together with our campuses through our home office. And then when we see something in demand and we’re getting it from more than just say one or two locations, then that’s something that we’re going to look at our curriculum and start to put into the curriculum what those changes are. It’s a nice cycle that we just consistently use and that’s what keeps it kind of right on that edge of, “Hey this is what’s happening, this is what we need to be doing.”

Bob: I want to follow up specifically on this. I get really confused when we talk about skills gap. So what I think I’m hearing is saying, but I don’t want to put words in your mouth, is that you use these groups to help you identify the skills gap, if you would, that the employers are telling you is out there—in other words what they need—and then that is then translated into your curriculum. Am I right?

Rich: That is accurate. That is correct, yes.

Bob: Okay, so what do you think is causing this whole skills gap, generally? Because that’s the topic of the overall session here. What’s your gut tell you is causing this skills gap problem? Is it a lack of communication? Is it a lack of outreach? What do you think?

Rich: When that question comes to me, Bob—and I’ve had that question come multiple times—to me the biggest thing that makes the gap is just the ever-changing environment of technology. We’re in a time now where, again, technology is just a constant change. We’ll always joke about you get a new computer and as soon as you buy it and get home, that computer’s old and obsolete and you need to get the next one. And when you’re looking at technology and you’re seeing that consistent change, that’s what’s continuing to keep the gap there.

If we were in a world where everything stayed the same, then we could fill the gap, and we wouldn’t have to worry about adjusting to wherever that gap is. We don’t live in a world like that; we do live in a world of change. Because of that change and technology, that is what creates the gap. And then us, as educators or as UTI, it’s our job to fill that gap. It’s our job to do the research, to have those program advisory committee meetings, and to absorb anything we need to continue to fill that gap.

Bob: So if you’ve identified the gap, you’re articulating it to your instructors to get it out there. What would you say—you’ve got all of these young people coming in, all of them absolutely enthralled about getting their careers going—what are the one or two or three things that you think are absolutely critical skills, generally, that you would convey to them? No matter where you go to school, you better have this and this and this. We could do it here, but no matter where you go, this is what you’ve got to come out with. What would you say?

Rich: We would call that the fundamental baseline—and for all of our students that go through the programs, we’re always telling them that you have to have a basic electrical knowledge. A good understanding of that knowledge for diagnosis and repair. You have to have computer operating and diagnosing capability. And those are twofold and kind of underline through our curriculum. Because just about every one of our classes is always going to hit on those fundamental skills, if you will.

And those fundamental skills, regardless of the direction that a student can go once they graduate, those are the ones that they’re going to carry and it kind of gives them that foothold. That’s that area that says, “If you have this skill, it’s going to be enough for you to get your foot in the door.” And then, of course, you track in the direction of the company that you’re working for.

Bob: Now conversely, the student can then say, “Well, what can you do for me, School X or School Y? And can you do this for me? And if you can’t or if I’m confident that you can’t, then I move down the road, don’t I?”

Rich: Yes. Yeah, it could work that way, Bob. And I think with this question and the way it can be looked at, we can pinpoint a lot of different areas and we can focus to say one or two topics. But I think what UTI does as a whole—and you have to look at the entire cycle of what we do. It really is just a full circle for a high school student coming out and starting at UTI. Or even for some, it’s someone who’s been in the industry for years and then comes to UTI. The full cycle of what we do is providing them a baseline of information or a baseline of education in all different areas, with those areas from our program advisory committees focused to the industry demand. So even for someone who might be in the industry for a long time, they could be doing the same thing, working at the same company, and they’re never really gone outside the box of that.

When you look at our programs and you look at what it provides across the entire curriculum, you’re getting a good baseline across the board that hits the demand in a lot of different areas. Or in other words, it’s opening up a lot of doors to a student—and not necessarily just one or two.

When you ask the question to pinpoint one of those fundamentals, I’ll always go back to that electrical knowledge, being able to diagnose and repair and to have basic computer operating skills, and again, being able to diagnose and repair. But outside that, you have to look at the full spectrum of our programs. And they touch on just about every area that an automotive, a diesel, or a collision student—once they graduate and they get into the industry—are going to be touching.

One of the lines that I use a lot with students when I’m talking with them is, “UTI is going to allow you to succeed and then you proceed forward.” And that’s the goal for them. We want to fill the gap as far as what the industry is asking for. But I think it’s the full cycle of what we do with our programs, what we have with our facilities, and the history of UTI for what we’ve done over such a long period of time. I do feel we’re providing the best education you can get in the industry we’re in. And we continue to fill that gap. We continue to graduate students. And we continue to put them out to the manufacturers that we’re partnered with. And then, again, even too, the local area market. The smaller mom-and-pop shops, if you want to call them that, because there’s a demand there too.

Bob: Now, it leads me right into the next issue where the rubber meets the road, and that’s the instructors. Because you can have all these other things going on for you, but if the instructor isn’t current, up-to-date and whatever, and can’t relate to these young people, you’ve got a problem. So tell me about your instructors. What makes the UTI instructor different than the others?

Rich: Well, for UTI instructors, and I can talk across the board on this one, it doesn’t have to be specific just to the Sacramento campus because we are under all the same guidelines.

Our instructors are all required to have a minimum of five years of experience in the industry. I can tell you, for the most part, it’s rare that we have someone that’s even around that threshold. We normally have people that have at least 10, if not 15, 20, or more in the industry. The other demand that comes into play for us is our programmatic accreditation. ASC Education Foundation: ASC stands for Automotive Service Excellence. The programmatic accreditation that we go through with ASC is also for our instructors. So not just our programs, but then, also the requirements of an instructor. So an instructor, along with meeting the five years of experience in the industry, they also have to be ASC certified in the subject base that they teach. We can’t put an instructor into a class if they’re not ASC certified for that particular course or that particular subject. So we’re consistently keeping our instructors up-to-date with those certifications. And that happens across the board for all the campuses.

And then our instructors will push themselves even further because UTI has a standard to where we want to keep all of our instructors master certified. Now, I will say not every one of our instructors are, but we’re always pushing our instructors as a goal to be master certified. And that’s more or less where they’re certified across the board for ASC certifications. I think that is really what separates our instructors from anybody else who you could say is competing with us or is just in that same industry or education with us. I do feel that we are a step ahead when it comes to that, based off ASC and based off the demand, and the goal that we set for our instructors on an internal basis.

Bob: If they haven’t walked in those shoes, how’s the student going to relate to this individual? I think you’re right on. This whole certification thing gets me to the next question. And that has to do with advanced certification, advanced programs, because I know that UTI is known for their specialized programs. In other words, if you come in and you’re a really good student in automotive tech, you might be eligible to enroll in a Mercedes program or a Lexus program. Or there’s probably other ones for the electrical car programs now.

But tell us a little bit about that because I think our audience needs to understand that coming into a UTI facility, getting your education, is just your first step in how you guys have a multiple-step plan in place if they want it to move on up and make pretty good money.

Rich: Correct, Bob. It can be different for each campus, but at UTI we have we call MSAT programs, or manufacturer-specific advanced training programs. And what that does is that each MSAT is single to a partnership we have with the manufacturer.

Here in Sacramento, we have Ford and we have Toyota. And for those particular manufacturers, we’re following their certification guidelines with our students when they come out of our core programs. So your core programs would be your automotive or your diesel or your collision-type programs. But when you move into an MSAT, you’re taking the core base and then going further with a training that is specific to the manufacturer.

For our Ford Fact Program example, it’s a five-course setup. So 15 weeks that they are going through Ford training. For our Toyota certification or manufacturer-specific advanced training program, you’re looking at four courses; they’re going through a 12-week training. But those are set based on the manufacturer. So that’s not something that UTI builds, as far as the curriculum. We’re following the certification with the training that the manufacturer provides. It’s definitely an additional step to our core programs. I whole-heartedly would say that it does give any student that goes through an MSAT a better advantage in the industry because they’re much more prepared, just based on the level of the training.

And I would also say that they don’t specifically have to work, say, if they go through Ford, to work for Ford, or if they go through Toyota, to work for Toyota. Now, that is the normal path, if you will, but that doesn’t mean that they stay with that particular manufacturer. It could end up taking them further. They could go to an additional MSAT and just continue to build their skillset. But that’s what we’re looking at when you say a manufacturer-specific advanced training program or an MSAT.

That’s that extra step that we’re connected with the industry on, and it’s a huge value to the students.

Lee: I think that’s great. All right, now Rich, what about the importance of certifications such as auto and diesel programs that are master certified by the ASE Educational Foundation? Is this important in consideration for today’s technicians as they’re coming into school and getting their training?

Rich: Certifications are just another plus. It’s very important because it shows that they’re passing a test on a specific area for a certain level of their skillset. It demonstrates the knowledge for that skillset. I’m happy to say that UTI has ASE Education Foundation come to the campus on a quarterly basis, and they proctor ASE certifications. So that is not something UTI does. It’s just that we play the venue and they come in, they have a proctor on-site, and on a quarterly basis, they perform the tests. So it’s an opportunity for our instructors if they need to renew, and it’s an excellent opportunity for our students because if they’ve gone a certain distance in their program, and they feel that their skill set is in a good place, they can begin taking the certifications while they’re still in school. And that’s just a convenience for them while they’re here. And I talk about it at every orientation. Our employment services director talks about it at every orientation. But obviously, that is going to just build the brand for the student and their resume prior to graduation if they begin that certification process.

Lee: Right, wow! All right, now this is more of a general question, but how has the profession of a skilled technician evolved from a job to a career with advanced potential?

Rich: Well, I’ve got to go back to the technology aspect. You know, technology doesn’t stop evolving, and technicians have to stay up-to-date with these changes. And again, if they’re not looking at the changes and they’re not advancing themselves on those skills, it kind of puts them in a stagnant role. Now, for some that can work and it can be their career.

But for others who are continuing to evolve, and they’re continuing to move up or wanting to move up those people, as they continue to change with that technology, they’re going to end up being what we would call the industry leaders. They’re going to be the ones that are those frontrunners, really setting the example for what the changes are in technology but being able to lead that change.

That’s a consistent message that we keep with our students: They have to understand that change is inevitable and technology is going to be part of that change. So even when they graduate, that level and that skill set has to continue to rise. They have to continue to push themselves and become that leader in the industry. And I’m happy and proud to say, working for UTI, that we have many of our graduates that are out in the industry and have been for years, and they are the frontrunners in that area. They are the ones leading that change in the industry.

Lee: That’s great. Now finally, before we close, I have one last question, and it may be sort of touching on a lot of what we talked about during this podcast, but why is addressing the skills gap important in our community?

Rich: This one kind of hits me twofold. And I say that because, for myself, I’ve been in education for coming up 20 years. And I always felt that when you’re in education, you’re in the industry that makes all other industries possible because you’re teaching in that direction. So to me, education is just automatically partnered with communities because when you have that education stance and your goal is obviously a focus to a particular industry or field, but then also just your overall focus to the young men and women coming out of high school looking to advance their education—and not just on the industry that they go into, but also in life. I think that’s rewarding and I think it’s automatically couples.

If you think about education and community, they go hand-in-hand. When I think about UTI and the role it’s played in communities since 1965, I would say it’s second to none when it comes to the industry that we’re partnered with. We continue to graduate students. We continue to keep that gap closed. We’re taking these young men and women as they’re coming out of high school, or maybe it’s somebody that’s been out of school for a while and they’re looking to go back to school, start over as far as a career or just refresh as far as their skills, and again, connects them back to the community that they’re in.

Specifically for the Sacramento campus, we’re what we would call a destination campus. We have students that come from all over the region, but also from the Northwest and over toward Idaho as well and further east. We’re looked at as a destination campus, so for a lot of the students that come here, they come here specifically to go through our programs and then they go back home. And when they get back home, they’re affecting the community that they came from. And again, that’s that twofold piece, if you will.

Education to me has always just been partnered or coupled with the community that they support, but they’re really supporting the community from wherever the students come from, and if those students after graduation decide to go back.

Bob: Rich, that gets to another whole topic that we’d love to explore with you on another episode of Imagine America Radio. We’d really like to talk to you, or people like you, about the kinds of students that are coming and where they’re going back to and how you’re impacting their lives. We think that’s really important. That’s a really important message.

Rich: Lee and Bob, I’ve enjoyed the conversation. I’m definitely open to furthering the conversation down the road, talking more about what UTI is doing, the things we’re changing and evolving, and obviously any other topics that you guys have that we can affect. I think that’s what it always comes down to.

Bob: Well, just working with us for 20 years, you’ve affected some 30,000 students that we felt together. And I got to believe that that’s had a mass impact on communities all over the country. So I just want to thank you. I’ve enjoyed the conversation. Maybe got a little bit off track, but I think we hit the points that we wanted to hit. I’ll let Lee close.

Lee: Yeah, thank you for your time, Rich, and we hope everybody enjoyed this episode of Imagine America Radio.

If you’d like to learn more about Universal Technical Institute, please visit their website at

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