Skilled to Work: Donated Toyota Corollas help advance auto tech program at Drake State

The two Corollas are test model cars that are from model years 2016 and 2019.

Posted: Jul 25, 2019 1:30 PM
Updated: Jul 25, 2019 7:29 PM

After spending round one of his professional life in the Marine Corps, Stephen O’Rourke decided to turn his passions for cars into a paycheck.

“I said when I retired, if I was going to do anything, I was going to do something that I enjoyed and loved to do. And so, I decided to take the steps to go to school, learn automotives and go out there in the workforce and do something that’s fun,” said O’Rourke.

Statistics on automotive technicians in Alabama/Region 1:*

  • Alabama
    • Estimated employment - 8,170
    • Average annual wage - $41,050
    • 2018 job ads - 1,943
    • 2019 job ads - 803
  • Region 1
    • Estimated employment - 1,550
    • Average annual wage - $38,552
    • 2018 job ads - 347
    • 2019 job ads - 159

*Source: Alabama Department of Labor, Labor Market Information Division in cooperation with the Projections Managing Partnership program and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Alabama Department of Labor, Labor Market Information Division in cooperation with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data is based on the May 2018 Occupation Employment Survey employment and wage estimate file. Wage data has been aged using the latest quarterly Employment Cost Index (ECI) factors. 'NA' indicates data not available for publication or occupation does not work the traditional 2,080 hours per year. Alabama Department of Labor, Labor Market Information Division; Help Wanted OnLine from The Conference Board and WANTED Technologies. HWOL data Current as of 7/24/2019.

Instructor Mark Swaim (right) teaches students Rebecca Urrutia (left) and Stephen O'Rourke (center) at Drake State. Instructor Mark Swaim (right) teaches students Rebecca Urrutia (left) and Stephen O'Rourke (center) at Drake State.

He’s one of several students preparing for finals next week in Drake State’s auto technician course. He and others said the changing technology of today’s cars and trucks keep things exciting.

“You have to be a computer programmer, you have to be a plumber, you have to be an air conditioning specialist. You have to know all different types of systems,” said O’Rourke.

Another student, Rebecca Urrutia, said her passion for cars came from working with her dad on muscle cars. She said the newer models provide a fun challenge.

“There’s a lot more to them. So there’s a lot more new stuff that I get to learn,” said Urrutia. “I’ve always been like a puzzle person, so it kind of matches with my interest in putting stuff together and taking them apart.”

Instructor Mark Swaim has been in the industry for 35 years and has taught at Drake State for about 18 of them. He said Millennials have a unique advantage when it comes to newer vehicles.

“The younger generation grew up with computers, they’ve had computers in their hands, they can diagnose the cars better,” said Swaim.

Toyota donated two new Corollas to the program that were delivered on Tuesday. The test model cars are from model years 2016 and 2019.

Swaim said there are a number of benefits to having the new cars. For example, instead of just talking about cars that have a lot of modern technology built into them, now they have something they can really work with.

“We get to take them apart a little bit further here because it’s a test vehicle and it’s not going to be put on the road. So they get to take them down a little further and they can see how the car is built. That way it make it easier when they have to take them apart or work on them later on,” said Swaim.

Alabama State Senator Steve Livingston came through Drake State on Wednesday to observe the program and the newly donated vehicles. Senator Livingston sits on the Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development senate committee. He said the next step to improving the workforce is for businesses to become more involved with community colleges.

“They need to reach out to Drake State, they need to reach out to Wallace, they need to reach out to Calhoun and Northeast Alabama and say we’re looking for this type of employee. Can you help us train these guys and gals that are coming in the future, so they have ready placed jobs when they’re coming out?” said Livingston.

Meanwhile, O’Rourke said he already has his future planned out.

“It’s going to be graduate and work towards becoming a master technician and do the best I can,” said O’Rourke.

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