Developing a career in cars

Published 9:23 am Friday, April 19, 2013

Jason Merritt knows as well as anybody how technology in the auto industry is constantly evolving. The automotive services technology instructor at Riverland Community College, along with fellow instructor Olle Gladso, is helping tomorrow’s auto techs forge their ways into future careers.

“The good thing about this particular career area is that it’s national and it’s standardized,” Merritt said. “When you go through this program, you can work anywhere in this country, and the need is really strong for qualified auto technicians.”

Riverland’s automotive program, which is held on the Albert Lea campus, is certified through the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation, so students won’t simply be grease-monkeying around on old beaters. Student toolkits are complete.

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“There are some interesting things that our program has that you don’t see at other programs,” Merritt said. “We were the first in southern Minnesota to offer hybrid training on hybrid cars.”

Merritt added more exciting news: The program may be getting a Chevy Volt electric car, and students may soon be working with the Wind and Solar Energy program on some studies.

For working on today’s more intelligent cars, each student gets a laptop in his or her toolkit, as well. With that, they’ll learn how the computer talks to different cars and how to diagnose problems. Many projects may involve a student’s or his family’s car.

“It is a very hands-on, intensive course, and that way we have for every hour that would be spent in lecture and theory, three hours of hands-on work,” Merritt said.


Program overview

Because the program accepts 25 students at a time, Merritt said registration fills up quickly. Those looking at getting into the program should do so soon, he urged.

“They should be looking at getting registered before July 1,” Merritt said, and added that means starting the application process immediately. Applications are processed as first-come, first-served.

The program offers a 24-class, 69-credit diploma and a 72-credit associate of applied science degree. The majority of classes are automotive-service based, too. The first five classes are general studies. After that, students will study overall maintenance and delve into more specific areas.

“In one semester they might be doing brakes and suspension and engines, and the next doing automatic transmissions, ignition and electronics,” Merritt said.


Real world

About 15 of every 25 students who begin the course graduate with their credentials. Many of those students find jobs in the area, too. Merritt has seen it, as he has been an instructor at Riverland for 13 years. And students will have plenty of real-world experience when they enter the workforce, too. Among solving problems in the workshop, students sometimes offer services to the public. Because April is Car Care Month, they’ll do that this Saturday at Riverland in Albert Lea.

“It’s totally free,” Merritt said. “We check over the basic maintenance things that someone might not be checking all the time.”

The students will work in teams and provide free maintenance inspections to anybody who arrives between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Each car owner will then receive a full report about his or her vehicle.

For more information about Riverland Community College’s Automotive Service program and applications, visit