- Carlos Bonilla, 22, enrolled in a two-year automotive technician training program with Ford.
- He said it helped him prepare for success in a job he loves.
- Many US companies are partnering with schools to attract and train the workers they need.
When Carlos Bonilla was in high school, he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life.
To explore some of his interests, the Miami-based 22-year-old told Insider he tried a dual enrollment program that allowed him to take courses at a local community college while working toward his high school diploma.
After liking — but not loving — an aviation course, he decided to give an automotive one a try. He said he learned about vehicle makes and models, the brake and fuel systems, the transmission, the engine, and much more. It was a great fit.
“As soon as I went in, I loved it,” he said.
He began looking for ways to explore this interest after graduation and eventually found the Ford ASSET program, a two-year paid internship that gives participants the opportunity to alternate between classroom learning and working in a Ford or Lincoln dealer. The program, which dates back to 1986, partners with 40 community colleges and technical schools across the country — most participants are recent high school graduates.
A Ford representative told Insider that tuition for the program varies by community college but averages roughly $15,000 for the two years, though some dealers provide tuition reimbursement. According to Bonilla’s tuition bills viewed by Insider, he paid roughly $9,000, and it was not reimbursed. But he said it was “totally worth it.”
“I loved learning everything about the cars, loved working with my hands, seeing how everything works, fixing it,” he said.
This type of program is a good fit for young people like Bonilla who aren’t sure if the traditional college path — and the mountain of student debt that comes with it — are a good fit. It’s a win-win for companies in growing industries like electric vehicles, semiconductor manufacturing, and renewable energy, many of whom are struggling to attract workers with the technical skills they need.
As car manufacturers increase their investment in electric vehicles, for instance, there’s rising demand for the workers who will build these vehicles and — once they’re on the road — maintain and repair them at car dealers across the country. As a result, the ASSET program has incorporated more electric vehicle instruction into its curriculum, a Ford representative told Insider.
In recent years, many companies across the US have begun working with schools to — like Ford — attract and train the workers they need.
A mix of training and work experience helped jump-start his career
The ASSET program’s schedule switches every six to eight weeks. During the schooling period, participants spend roughly five hours in the classroom, Bonilla said, before traveling to their appointed dealership to work for the next five to seven hours. After these six to eight weeks are up, the students spend the next period working a full-time, paid position at the dealer. Then the cycle repeats.
After two years, individuals earn an Associate’s degree, and many have the opportunity to start working full-time at their dealer.
Bonilla said the program, which he graduated from last year, made him confident he had made the right career choice. He’s now working full-time as a technician at the Royal Lincoln dealer in Miami. Pay varies by dealer, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the median annual wage of automotive service technicians and mechanics at roughly $42,000 per year.
In a few months, Bonilla said he’ll become eligible to become a master technician, which requires five years of experience and the completion of certain classes. He said he expects the new position to come with greater responsibility and higher pay.
Even though he’s done with the program, Bonilla has had other opportunities to continue his education in the field. He said his dealer paid for him to get a variety of certifications, including one that allows him to work on hybrid and electric vehicles. He said he believes this skill set will be valuable in the future as these vehicles become more popular.
On the whole, Bonilla said he’s very satisfied with his job.
“I love what I do, plain and simple,” he said. “I come into work excited to work on these cars, to figure out these electrical problems, to work on these heavy lines. I just like what I do.”
The toughest part about his gig is that his workplace can get very hot — he said the dealer he works at doesn’t have any air conditioning.
Going forward, Bonilla said he plans to learn and get better every day. He has some advice for other young people who are struggling to figure out what they want to do for a career.
“Figure out what you like and find a career path that revolves around what you love,” he said. “That way you don’t have to work a single day in your life.”