Dalton State College will end its automotive repair program in December, but it is not a case of bad timing with the announcement that Volkswagen will build a major auto assembly plant in Chattanooga.
Directors of auto repair programs in the area said the addition of the VW plant at Enterprise South will not correlate to their students directly. But they do expect a trickle down effect — economic growth mean more cars on the road and more cars means more repairs.
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“With bringing more people to the area, that will open up more jobs,” said Troy Peco, automotive director at Northwestern Technical College. “We’re already in high demand. Everyone knows it’s hard to find a good technician.”
Mr. Peco said the Volkswagen excitement could increase interest in auto-related programs at Northwestern. But his classes teach repair and service, not engineering or assembly line construction of cars.
The skill to repair cars after they’re built and running will always be in demand, he added.
“Whether the economy’s slow or booming, everybody needs to drive,” Mr. Peco said. “(Car repair) is one of the best occupations in the nation, as far as being able to find a job.”
According to Jodi Johnson, Dalton State’s vice president of student enrollment and student services, the school’s academic council last month voted to end the college’s automotive repair program, which was started in 1975.
“The enrollment numbers have been dropping over the last three to four years,” Mrs. Johnson said.
The seven students in the program now will finish their course study in December, and no new students will be accepted into automotive repair.
Mrs. Johnson said the program is definitely closed, but if student demand turned around, there’s always the possibility of reopening the automotive repair department.
Meanwhile, Dalton State’s closing might mean more students coming to Northwestern’s program, especially from the Whitfield County Career Academy, which has an active automotive technician course.
Mr. Peco said one student from the Career Academy is already enrolled in his program.
Northwestern’s automotive repair course has 20 students enrolled this summer, and Mr. Peco said he had 36 students last fall. He expects continued interest and as many students this fall.
“The down economy is bringing them to this industry,” he said.
As far as programs at the two colleges that might relate to jobs with Volkswagen, Mrs. Johnson said Dalton State’s industrial and electrical engineering programs would offer opportunities.
And Mr. Peco said Northwestern Tech has a program that teaches students how to repair machinery like that used on assembly lines.