With the help of McHenry County College, one student accelerated his career in the automotive industry. Learn how community colleges are making a difference in filling the skills gap.
Since childhood, Mike LoCascio has had a passion for automobiles. McHenry County College helped him turn that passion into a career.
Currently the service manager at Kunes Country Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram of Woodstock, LoCascio earned an Advanced Automotive Maintenance Technician certificate from MCC’s Automotive Technology program.
His entry into the field delivered a critical set of skills needed in an industry where there’s been a shortage of qualified talent.
MCC graduates typically find themselves in advanced, critical-thinking type roles such as automotive technicians, service managers, insurance adjusters and service writers.
“A technician is the hardest position to fill in a dealership,” LoCascio says. “We have 17 shops in our group of dealerships, and they all need technicians. It’s a tough gig, and it’s a lot of hard work because you have to be a carpenter, electrician and a plumber – and you need all of those skills. These classes are definitely mandatory if you want to grow your career.”
Instructors with 20 to 30 years of automotive experience teach MCC’s classes, which are taught in three automotive labs with roughly 16 students apiece. The small class sizes allow for personalized instruction.
“MCC’s Automotive Technology program provides high-quality training with a lot of options, whether a student is pursuing a certificate, an associate degree or a track toward a four-year school to earn a bachelor’s degree,” says Nate Kivley, MCC automotive instructor. “Whatever their goals are for education in automotive technology, we provide a pathway for that.”
The college also has industry partnerships throughout the area. MCC networks with more than 43 advisory board members who, with MCC instructors, personally visit auto repair shops, fleets, dealerships and other businesses in McHenry County and the surrounding area.
“We also partner with all of the area high schools through dual-credit programs,” says Mike Albamonte, instructor and department chair. “We have students who’ve become managers, service writers, shop owners and trainers who exclusively hire our students.”
LoCascio was introduced to the program through a mutual friend. He was already changing oil at the Chevrolet dealership in Crystal Lake, so he knew the industry. After graduation, he became a technician with Gary Lang Auto Group, in McHenry, and later became service manager at Kunes Country Ford of Antioch before stepping into his current position.
MCC’s curriculum fit in perfectly with LoCascio’s schedule. Since classes are taught at night, he could still maintain his job while earning his degree. Classes are extremely hands-on, in some cases involving actual automotive repair work in a class designed to feel like a real-world job.
“The expectations are that you have to do your work, and you have to do it in a timely fashion,” LoCascio says. “They tell you you’re there to do a job, and they carry that same attitude throughout the program, which helps when students step foot in a dealership or repair facility. It creates a much better employee.”
Given the increasingly technical and technology-driven nature of modern automobiles, the sorts of skills developed through MCC’s program can put graduates on an accelerated career path.
“People might think if they can’t do anything else, they can fix cars, and that’s not the case anymore,” LoCascio says. “You need to be at the top of your game in order to become a top-level technician. You’re going to be left behind if you’re not at the top of your game.”