BELOIT — If fixing vehicles is like solving a puzzle, it’s one with ever-increasing and changing pieces. It’s part of the reason 17-year-old Gavan Labott enjoys it so much.
He’s also able to build upon the skills he learned at the shop of his grandparents, Mike and Cindy Kellicut’s—Jerry’s Park Avenue Auto Body—as well as through Beloit Memorial High School’s automotive program.
Labott is in his second year of an apprenticeship at Finley Buick GMC, 2700 Milwaukee Road, through the automotive program at Beloit Memorial High School (BMHS). He works 20 to 25 hours a week as he attends the second semester at Blackhawk Technical College (BTC). He has one more full year of education remaining at BTC and then will be able to pursue his career full-time. He already can do service work on vehicles and minor repairs such as brake jobs.
“I try and work as much as I can,” Labott said.
Labott, who doesn’t like to sit still, said the auto industry is a good career for him.
“It’s constantly evolving and changing so you don’t fall into a rut. It keeps your mind and body active,” Labott said.
“He is an exceptionally well-rounded young man. He listens well and does what he is told. He goes above and beyond. He’s been a pleasure to have for these two years. He fits in with numerous different personalities,” said Finley Buick GMC Service Manager Bryan Tourdot.
Beloit School District Automotive Instructor John Hayes said Labott has a bright future as there is high demand in the industry.
Beloit Memorial High School Automotive Instructor John Hayes said the shortage of auto technicians began in the 1990s and hasn’t caught up. The starting salary for an auto technician is $30,000 to $40,000.
“It’s not uncommon to make $60,000 to $80,000 a year with three to five years experience,” Hayes said. “And then the sky’s the limit. I know several technicians in Beloit that are close to, and past, six figures.”
Labott spent time at his grandparent’s shop when he was young and started working there when he was older. He then completed the three automotive courses. When it was time for an apprenticeship, he thought Finley Buick GMC would be a good fit as his grandfather had done business with the dealership.
Hayes said the high school automotive program typically has about 150 students. Due to distance learning it’s at about 100 now.
The program offers an array of opportunities. Students can learn the basics of vehicle maintenance and/or go on to start careers in the automotive industry.
This year the program is offering a new class called introduction to automotive technology which is not part of the certified program. It’s meant to be fun with a lot of hands-on experience and will help students determine if they would be interested in the career field. They leave the class knowing how to change a flat tire, change oil and jump start a car, Hayes said.
Students can go on to take automotive technology 1, 2 and 3.
“If you take all three of those classes and pass them with a ‘C’ or better, it equates to 14 credits at Blackhawk Technical College, the whole first semester of the auto program,” Hayes said.
Students in the program also can gain Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Entry-Level certifications in nine areas including: engine repair; automatic transmissions, manual transmissions, suspension and steering, brakes, and electrical and electronic systems, heating and air conditioning, engine performance and maintenance and light repair.
Labott has all nine professional certifications.
Although interest in the automotive program remains steady, Hayes said the demand in the industry keeps growing all the time.
“I always have employers looking for apprentices,” he said.
Hayes said being a technician is a lifelong learning process. The ideal candidate must be ready to keep up and learn new things.
“As long as you stay caught up, it’s easy to keep with it. When you decide not to learn anymore, you can get left in the dust really fast,” Hayes said. “You can learn the technical aspect, but you have to want to solve puzzles. Cars are never broken the same way twice.”
It’s also important for technicians to be self-motivated.
“You are typically working by yourself in a shop. Along with that, you have to be reliable and have good communication skills. It’s not always easy to get information from a customer,” he said.