School for Mechanics: Gearing Up On the Latest Auto Repair Technology

School for Mechanics: Gearing Up On the Latest Auto Repair Technology

In the rapidly changing automotive world, one thing remains the same. You still need a good mechanic to fix your car it when it breaks down. That is where CNCC’s Dale Updike comes in. As lead teacher and program head of the automotive program at Colorado Northwestern Community College (CNCC), Updike is passionate about sharing his over 40 years of experience as an automotive technician with the next generation of student mechanics.

“Whether you are a natural-born mechanic or want to learn to be one, you’ll get under the hood and find the training you need in CNCC’s auto technology program.” says Updike “One of the first questions I ask is, how passionate are you about cars? They might be an import sports car fan, they might be all about the Chevy, Dodge or Ford — but the one thing they all have in common is their desire to get under the hood and learn everything about repairing and maintaining a vehicle. Before I ever hand them the ratchet, I ask what it is and if they’re interested in using this for the rest of their career.”

School for Mechanics — Automotive Programs

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While building monster trucks, fine-tuning a Nascar engine, or racing in the NHRA may not be on your agenda just yet, CNCC’s program is designed to equip you with the skills to tackle just about every other auto technology job. The automotive program at CNCC’s school for mechanics is divided into three ASE (National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence) certified training program options.

“We have a 27-credit Maintenance and Light Repair (MLR) program for our first-year students,” says Updike. “It's one fall and  spring semester of courses. This is a NATEF (National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation) accredited program that puts a student out there into the industry as an entry-level technician.”

According to Updike, while some students will take the opportunity to enter the workforce after one year in the program, most elect to benefit from entering into the second year Automotive Service Technician (AST) program.

“This builds on the first year, accruing a total of 52 credits,” says Updike. “At the end of the program, a student will be in the position to hold down just about any job in a shop.”

The next level of training is the Master Automotive Service Technician (MAST) certificate which is a 19-credit program. The MAST certificate is designed for students looking to enter the industry in a more senior position with customer-facing and team management responsibilities.

“On top of that we offer an Associate of Applied Science degree (AAS),” says Updike. “That option stacks all three of these certificates together and adds 15 credits of general education classes, including public speaking, English, computers, math, and business. The student can then graduate with an Associate of Applied Science in Automotive Technology.”

Hands-on Experience

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Throughout the auto repair technology programs, a student’s time is divided equally between the classroom and the shop. The emphasis is always on delivering practical, workplace-ready experience.

“In the first-year program, we have a lab experience class where each week the students actually do ‘live’ automotive customer repairs,” says Updike. “Students learn to check on the online resources as to what the repairs are, the allotted book time for the labor rate, and whether they can actually meet the time shown if they were working flat rate.”

As well as providing students with hands-on experience in diagnosing and repairing problems, the class also gives them a solid understanding of customer service skills.

“A professional technician has to be able to speak with the customer to get all the information they need about the problem and they must be mindful of how they treat a customer's vehicle,” says Updike. “You don't leave greasy handprints on the steering wheel or floor mats. We always teach our students that when they do a repair, the worn parts go back in the box and are placed by the shop walk-in door to show all customers what was replaced and why, so that the customer knows exactly what they received for the service.”


It's not just the quality of education and comprehensive training that makes CNCC stand out as an excellent place to study auto repair technology.

“We've got great industry support,” says Updike. “We have three automotive dealerships here in Craig, Colorado and more in the surrounding area plus independent shops. They all support us.”

In addition to the excellent training and support that come with CNCC’s educational options, Updike also highlights the spectacular outdoor and leisure opportunities available to students in the local area.

“We have all of the natural resources that students going to classes in metropolitan areas can only dream of,” says Updike. “Whether you're a fisherman, skier, mountain biker, hiker or dirt biker, we’ve got it all right on our doorstep.”

Career Opportunities

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for automotive service technicians and mechanics is currently $40,710 with good opportunities spread throughout the United States. In Colorado, the annual median wage is slightly higher, ranging from $45,780-$59,350. According to the BLS, job opportunities for qualified technicians will continue to be very good. CNCC’s Dale Updike concurs.

“Job prospects are great,” says Updike. “With an increasing number of vehicles on the road, the industry is facing a shortfall of trained mechanics. If you want to work in the industry and put yourself through trade school to become a mechanic, there will be a lot of opportunities for you at the end of your study.” In fact, CNCC currently has dealerships and employers calling and emailing the school looking to hire automotive students the moment they have completed their training and ASE certification.

Learn More

To learn more about CNCC’s Automotive Technology AAS and certificate programs or to apply, please visit the program page on our website.

Published February 12, 2021

About CNCC

Colorado Northwestern is one college in two Colorado communities. Depending on what you want to study, CNCC has the perfect surroundings and facilities to meet your needs. Founded in 1962 as “Rangely College,” CNCC now serves nearly 1,600 students on two campuses, two service centers and online. Our two campuses are located in Craig and Rangely and are 90 miles apart in the mountains and canyons of Northwestern Colorado.