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WCSD students start path to automotive careers with pre-apprenticeship program

WCSD students start path to automotive careers with pre-apprenticeship program

Westerville Central High School senior Jeilen Thompson has always been fascinated with cars. It was an interest his father shared with him as a child and Thompson wanted to continue learning about them, how they operate and how to troubleshoot problems.

This year, Thompson has been splitting his day between WCHS and Performance Columbus’ service center, diving into all facets of automotive maintenance and repair and getting hands-on training on everything from engine work to vehicle diagnostics. He is among the first cohort of Westerville high school students participating in a year-long pre-apprenticeship program designed to prepare teens for careers in the automotive industry.

“I’m loving the challenge,” Thompson said. “I’m getting challenged with some cars that have different wiring systems and challenging myself to learn how this part works for this specific car and compare that to how that part works differently for another car. I’m getting to learn all the puzzles and pieces.”

Performance Columbus, an automotive dealership group with franchises across the state, launched their pre-apprenticeship program to partner with area school districts and help build the future workforce of automotive technicians — their biggest level of demand, said Jeff Anthony, director of the pre-apprenticeship program.

Two master technicians trainers are dedicated to pre-apprenticeship students, discussing theory in the classroom and applying what they learned to hands-on experiences in the auto shop. Lessons are geared toward safety — for themselves and the owners of the vehicles they are servicing. 

“I tell them, ‘Being a technician, we have people’s lives in our hands every day. Take this seriously,’ ” said Andy Callahan, a master technician trainer leading the pre-apprenticeship classes. 

As an example, he cited a video circulating on social media where a tire from a truck fell off and struck the vehicle behind it — the result of a tire that likely was not tightened properly. 

“That’s what I’m trying to teach them,” he said. “It’s fun to go out and do the job but we take it seriously as technicians. You can’t do it any other way.” 

At the end of the program, students can move onto Performance Columbus’ paid apprenticeship program.

Three months into the program, Thompson already knows he wants to continue pursuing a path in the automotive industry. 

“I definitely want to take this experience and maybe open up my own shop in the future or I’d love to work for this place,” he said.

“They have a lot of good people here, especially because I’m learning from all of them. I’m comfortable with this place.”

  • Westerville Central High School
  • Westerville City Schools
  • Westerville North High School
  • Westerville South High School

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