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High school students with automotive repair skills compete for scholarships in Sandy

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Posted at 5:54 PM, May 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-06 19:54:14-04

SANDY, Utah --  The best auto technician students in Utah gathered in Sandy Wednesday, where they grabbed their tools, their sensors and their specialized knowledge and went to work to determine just who is the best of the best.

The event was held at the Sandy campus of Salt Lake Community College, and high school students from across the state came out to showcase their automotive repair prowess.

Rolayne Farrclough represents AAA, a sponsor of the competition, and she spoke about the challenge.

“The cars are identical,” she said. “They’re brand new Fords. They’re all identical, and they each have bugs in them—identical bugs.”

Ten teams of two representing high schools from across the state set out to diagnose and repair those bugs. Christian Beaumont is a senior automotive technician student at Provo High School who participated.

“It’s pretty exciting,” he said. “I have a chance to win scholarships, so that would be pretty helpful.”

There are $10 million worth of scholarships and prizes up for grabs, and Wednesday’s winners will advance to the finals in Detroit--where they will square off against the best in the nation.

“This is a real big deal, and no matter if they finish first or 10th place, they have bragging rights for the rest of their lives,” Farrclough said.

Modern car manufacturers are always striving to one-up the competition with the latest and greatest technological advances. Gone are the days when your 'average Joe' could tune up their car in the driveway, as today’s cars are complicated and keeping up to speed is critical for auto technicians.

“It’s about lifelong learning,” said Dennis O’Reilly, an instructor and judge in the competition. “You have to go to webinars, seminars, you know, participate in training. It’s the nature of what it is. It's a constantly changing industry.”

Today’s automotive techs could almost be likened to being a doctor: Each time a new design or procedure hits the automotive world, it means more coursework.

“I think it’s time that people realized what skill sets are involved when you have a technician and how the whole picture of this job has changed,” Farrclough said.

An average technician can make more than $25 an hour, meaning an estimated $52,000 annually. Good technicians are in big demand, plus they can find work anywhere in the country. So, for Wednesday’s competitors, the future looks very bright.

“There’s a lack of auto technicians,” Farrclough said. “We’re seeing a lot of people who retire out of the field. We need good, educated, smart people to come into those jobs.”

Wade Tate and Cason Hales of Riverton High School won Wednesday’s competition, and they have advanced to the finals in Detroit, which will take place in June. This the second year in a row a team from Riverton High School has won. Teams from Olympus and Provo high schools came in second and third respectively.