Accelerating education: Middlesex vo-tech student jump-starts career with Jaguar Land Rover

After Rafael Miranda graduated from the auto program at Middlesex County Vocational Technical School in Perth Amboy, he landed a job working at an independent repair shop.

Not long after, he got a call from one of his teachers at the school, asking if he was interested in an apprenticeship with the Ray Catena Jaguar Land Rover dealership in Edison.

Miranda jumped at the opportunity. Over the summer, the service manager at Ray Catena sponsored and enrolled Miranda in the 12-week Technician Apprentice Program at Jaguar Land Rover North America headquarters in Mahwah.

“The training from Middlesex County was very helpful because it got me ready for this apprentice program,” Miranda said. “I’ve learned a lot more about cars and the Jaguar Land Rover brand. I never thought I’d be here fixing luxury cars.”

Charles Willis, training programs supervisor for Jaguar Land Rover North America, said auto dealers like Ray Catena are looking for the next generation of technician, one who is inspired, educated and has a passion for learning.

“This is a good career to get into, especially now with the advancement of electric vehicles,” Willis said. “We’re looking for the next generation of technician to take on the next generation of technology. The students coming out of high school right now are in a great position to learn all of these new systems. There is a need for technicians at Jaguar Land Rover retailers and retailers in general.”

Finding young people who want to work in the auto service industry is becoming increasingly difficult. Auto dealerships nationwide are facing a shortage of mechanics. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are 750,000 auto techs and mechanics across the country. The industry will need another 46,000 more techs by 2026 to meet demand and respond to attrition, according to the bureau. 

Techs working in a dealership in 2016 earned from $29,024 for a lube tech to $69,703 for a master technician, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association. Service advisers earned a median salary of $62,333, according to NADA.

The modern auto repair shop at a dealership is much different than the dimly lit, dingy, disorganized repair shops of yesteryear. The repair shop at Jaguar Land Rover in Mahwah looks more like a hospital operating room, except cars are the patients. It is brightly lit, organized, spotless and filled with electronic diagnostic equipment.

Willis said entry-level employees have a variety of experience. Some have previous work experience at an independent dealership, others attended post-secondary technical schools and some come directly from vocational-technical schools.

Perth Amboy Tech and the other county vocational-technical schools throughout the state align their automotive technology programs with the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, or ASE, the industry group that certifies automotive professionals. High school students are able to earn entry level certifications as part of their automotive technology program. 

“The motivation for us to find technicians at the vocational school level is because they already have been exposed to the core basic curriculum that’s required as the foundation learning for our programs,” Willis said.

“Our technician apprentice program relies on candidates coming in with some experience so they don’t get lost and we have to retrain them with all the basics skills,” Willis said. “We want to build on the education that they received from the vocational school.”

Jaguar Land Rover has four levels of training for its technicians. Technicians typically start at Level Zero. Upon completion of the 12-week Technician Apprenticeship Program, Miranda earned Level 2 certification and has also completed several Level 3 classroom courses to become a Level 3 associate technician — completing a career path in three months that can take as long as three years.

Willis said Jaguar Land Rover North America LLC is looking to create collaborative partnerships with other county vocational schools. This training program is a path for automotive technology students to become a Level 1 certified Jaguar Land Rover Technician while still in school. 

“When students graduate, they can hit the ground running and be that much more accelerated on their path to becoming a Jaguar Land Rover technician,” Willis said.

Starting as an auto mechanic is a good entry point for a career in the automotive industry, Willis said.

“The technician’s career is very wide and diverse. The career ladder at a Jaguar Land Rover retailer can take you anywhere within the business,” Willis said. “About 80% of all the service managers and upper management personnel at a retailer have been technicians at one time.”