Tools of the Trade: Vocational School Gives Students Edge

In this deep global recession, students need all the tools they can get their hands on to succeed.

For those attending a leading vocational college in El Paso, that means increased access to high-quality professional-grade automotive and other industrial tools.

Tuesday, Western Technical College, a privately owned career college in El Paso, opened its new 600-square-foot Matco tool and book store on its main campus, 9624 Plaza Circle, in the Lower Valley.

The store is open to the school’s students, will give them discounts on specialty tools and will help give them a leg up in their chosen careers by giving them access to the latest tool technology, officials said.

The store is an extension of an eight-year relationship between the school and Ohio-based Matco Tools, a leading manufacturing and distributor of tools geared to professional mechanics.

About 650 students at the school’s main campus and 100 community members attended the grand opening Tuesday.

Drag racer Antron Brown, who is ranked No. 1 in the point standings for the National Hot Rod Association’s top-fuel division, was the special guest.

Brown’s main sponsor is Matco, and he said the partnership between the tool company and school will benefit the students as they prepare for careers in automotive, diesel, heating and cooling, and performance-tuning.

"This school is about teaching students to work in the real world," Brown said. "Matco wants to give them the right tools to succeed.

Matco will give them a head start with the tools they need.

"This will give students a shot in the arm for their careers, and Matco is giving them an edge to get started in their industry.

People aren’t buying new cars. "They’re maintaining the cars they have," Brown said. "When they break down, they take them to a mechanic. Right now, it’s a technician’s world."

Brown said that most mechanics are paid based on standard industry estimates for how long a job will take. If you have good tools, you can get the job done faster and make more money, he said.

The store will employ two people and will also be open to Western Tech’s graduates, but they won’t be able to get the student discount, school President Allan Sharpe said. School and Matco officials declined to state what the student discount will be.

Students receive a basic tool kit as part of their tuition, Sharpe said, and this program will provide them with the opportunity to buy specialty tools that they need in their particular field and prepare them for the job market.

"Our slogan is ‘College for the real world,’ " Sharpe said. "We’re trying to get our students prepared to go to work as soon as they graduate. They can get the right tools, and that can only help them.

We have a 90 percent job-placement rate."

Western Technical offers two-year degrees and certificates in 11 programs, but the new tool store will mainly benefit students in automotive and other mechanic fields.

Northeast El Paso resident Matt Glidewell, a 24-year-old student in the school’s performance-tuning program, said he was excited about seeing the new tool and book store open.

"We use tools all the time," Glidewell said. "Tools are what we do. This will give us a discount and help us keep up on specialty tools that will be available."

Glidewell said vocational training is "straight and to the point. What you need to learn in your field, you learn it. I took math, but it was math that applied to automotive technology."

Oscar Varela, a finance professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, said the relationship between Western Technical and Matco "sounds like a great partnership and a positive interaction."

"More power to them in getting this partnership going," he said. "Whenever a school or university can partner with a business or groups in the community that bring further insight, that’s a great partnership. We look for that at universities, not just at UTEP, but all universities across the nation."

Vocational training has a role to play in preparing people for the work force, whe ther the economy is good or bad, Varela said.

"Not everyone is meant to get a university degree," he said. "Other people are better suited to go into a vocation such as being a mechanic or computer technician.

"Just so long as people have the training to be productive in the work force, it doesn’t matter if you go to a university or a vocational school," Varela added. "It just depends on what you’re best suited for."

Lauren Macias-Cervantes, director of regional relations for Workforce Solutions Upper Rio Grande, said the partnership will allow students "to get some of these tools that maybe they weren’t aware of."

"Getting that hands-on experience is key," she said. "Our research shows that the higher educated you are, the better your chance of staying employed, obtaining a good job and earning higher wages."

Eastsider Richard Boles, 41, is enrolled in Western’s automotive program and works part-time for Dick Poe Dodge as a technician.

The new student store "provides a crucial key element to succeed in the real world," Boles said. "You not only can get a discount, but get the right tools for the right job."

Vocational education also prepares you for the job market, he said.

"It’s not just theory; you go out there and do it," Boles said.

Horizon City resident Anthony Medellin, a 37-year-old student in the diesel technology program, said vocational education "gives you another option" in the job market.

Medellin works at Pep Boys as an installer and has been attending Western Technical since January.

Jeffrey Wagner, a business development manager for Matco, said the store would help students "better position" themselves for jobs in their field of study.

The company is also looking to establish long-term relationships with students who are going into the automotive field, Wagner said.

Matco is a subsidiary of Danaher Corp., a Fortune 500 company. Danaher’s stock closed at $54.22 Tuesday, up 37 cents, or 0.69 percent.

David Burge may be reached at; 546-6126.  (ElPasoTimes)

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