cocc - automotive

Just a handful of hybrid-electric cars drove off sales lots in the United States in 1999. Seventeen of them, to be precise. That year, as a new era of autos (led by the Honda Insight) started rolling off assembly lines, the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics began collecting data. By 2013 — 15 years later — consumers would purchase nearly half a million hybrids.

The once-alternative market has now gone mainstream. And the fast-selling hybrid category — Toyota’s hybrid sales, for instance, jumped 28.7% in 2019 — is being paced by a rapidly growing segment of electric-only vehicles. Sales of plug-in vehicles in the U.S. climbed by 81% between 2017 and 2018, with Tesla nabbing a huge share of the market when it hit record production numbers in late 2019.

From his automotive lab at Central Oregon Community College (COCC), Ken Mays has watched this industry shift from the on-ramp to the fast lane. The automotive technology program director, with the college since 1990, began to see the need for creating a widely recognized service credential for technicians working in the electric-powered automotive world. New standards for a new industry.

So three years ago, and partnered with a program counterpart at Rio Hondo College in California, Mays secured a National Science Foundation grant to implement the credentialing system. The $779,000 grant (the second NSF grant the two have received) is helping them design and activate this all-new credentialing model.

“The idea is to have these webinar lessons,” said Mays in his Bend office, scrolling through a list of one-hour sessions on his computer screen. “The aim is to be technology-centric, not manufacturer-centric.” The Society of Automotive Engineers is helping oversee the system, which Mays envisions will ultimately go international.

Students will have already earned automotive training certificates or degrees prior to taking the credentialing lessons and testing. They will provide additional certificates in vehicle electrification systems.

Though the rollout is still being formalized, automotive technology students are certainly learning hybrid-electric essentials at COCC, with classes held at the Redmond campus’s Technology Education Center.

“I was drawn into the automotive field because I wanted to be able to teach my three sons how to work on their own vehicles,” said Amy Bachman, who’s currently working toward a Master Automotive Technician certification and an associate degree in Automotive Technology in Electronics and Diagnostics. “I’m not certain yet where my future career will take me, but I know that I am very interested in pursuing automotive technology advancement.”

In all, the college offers 15 different certificates, plus the Master Automotive certification and two Associate of Applied Science degrees: one in automotive technology in electronics and diagnostics, the other in automotive management. The program has a learning facility in Bend, too.

COCC not only gets future technicians trained up, it gets them plugged in. “We have a co-op work experience of 288 hours of ‘on-the-job,’” explained Mays. “We connect them with a company that’s going to give them the experience that they need.”

The program’s NSF grant funds have also helped establish a network of professional technical institutions in the Northwest, as well as expanded channels of recruitment to include more women, Latinos and Native Americans.

Contributing to education and technology on a broader level, Mays has qualified to become a mentor to help other colleges — nationwide — apply for similar NSF technology grants. From North Dakota to New York, he’s been assisting colleges as they seek funding to implement cutting-edge practices in things like manufacturing and mechatronics.

Near and far, the COCC automotive technology program is helping to steer changes in training and innovation. It’s a whole new road ahead.

For more details, visit the automotive technology program or call 541-383-7700.