Students sign on to learn trade at Kelley

January 9th, 2019

By Ashley Sloboda | The Journal Gazette

Paperwork, pens and Kelley Automotive Group hats awaited five high school students Tuesday at Tom Kelley Buick GMC, one of two dealerships where they will soon regularly work.

The Fort Wayne Community Schools Career Academy students – Nolan McKuras, Enrique Trujillo, Jacob Maggart, Keagan Snaufer and Jose Cortez – successfully completed an extensive vetting process for a paid service technician internship. They will be paired with an experienced automotive service technician.

They, along with their Career Academy instructors, marked the accomplishment with a midday signing ceremony at the dealership. Forms included their pay plan and job description.

“I just feel like it's the right job for me,” said Snaufer, a senior at Snider High School. “It doesn't get any better than this.”

Once the teens were seated at a table flanked by red, white and black balloons, Kelley Automotive executives Tom Kelley, president, and son Jim Kelley II, executive vice president, welcomed them with handshakes and brief conversation.

The company hopes the signing ceremony is the first of many, the younger Kelley said, describing technicians as one of its biggest needs.

Jesse Webb, the Career Academy principal, acknowledged college isn't for everyone and described the auto internship as an “excellent opportunity” to get students in the workforce.

Except for Maggart, who attends Homestead High School in Southwest Allen County Schools, the students go to FWCS high schools. Most are seniors.

Three will work at Kelley Chevrolet; the other two will work at Tom Kelley Buick GMC.

“If all goes well,” Snaufer said, “it will be a full-time job straight out of high school.”

Career Academy instructor Phil Rickard wishes such an opportunity existed when he was beginning his career, he said. This is his 30th year in the automotive service industry.

Students' grades, attendance, shop performance, participation and positive attitude were among the factors Career Academy instructors considered when recommending candidates for the internship, Rickard said. Kelley Automotive then vetted the teens, he said, noting essays, resumes and interviews were involved.

The internship program has the potential of inspiring future students to excel and pursue careers in an industry that needs a high-quality – not mediocre – workforce, Rickard said.

He said the stigma of being a mechanic – “the low guy on the totem pole” – has changed as cars have gotten more technologically sophisticated.

“You have to be a technician now,” he said.