Learning car tech specs

Students get practical training from Toyota program at Clark

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



On the Web

• More information about Clark College’s Toyota Technician Training and Education Network is at:


• See student costs of T-TEN program at:


T-TEN automotive technician program

Program length: 30 months.

Estimated total cost: $17,417, which includes tuition, books, supplies and fees.

Paid internships: Start at $10 an hour.

Program graduates: Jobs start at $25,000 to $30,000 annually.

Average technician salary: $55,000 to $60,000 annually.

• Experienced master technicians can earn $100,000 or more annually.

For information: contact Jason Crone, T-TEN coordinator, at 360-992-2566 or jcrone@clark.edu.

His head bent over a computer screen, Shaan Grissom worked at solving a problem: Why was the Toyota's TPMS light on? The tire pressure monitoring system light can be triggered for any number of issues.

"I've checked the wear of the tires, the tire pressure and the torque of the wheels," Grissom said Wednesday.

He rolled the computer cart closer to the vehicle, sat down in the driver's seat and connected the computer to a port underneath the dashboard.

Using the computerized monitoring system, Grissom was able to get closer to solving the problem.

Grissom, 32, of Longview says he's always had an aptitude for working on vehicles and was considering the automotive technician program at Universal Technical Institute in Sacramento, Calif., when he heard about the revamped, more rigorous Toyota Technician Training and Education Network (T-TEN) program at Clark College in Vancouver.

"Being placed in a dealership while in school was very intriguing to me," Grissom said.

Students rotate between 10 weeks at Clark and 10 weeks in paid internships working at a local Toyota dealership. By the time they complete the program, they'll have spent 30 weeks working full time in a dealership shop.

Although 40 community colleges around the country, including two others in the state, are in the process of getting their Toyota T-TEN certification, Clark College is among only 15 community colleges nationwide so far that have been certified in the rigorous new standards by Toyota, said Mike Godson, Clark's department head of the Automotive Technology department.

Clark is the first in the Pacific Northwest to receive the upgraded Toyota certification. Clark instructors spent two years developing new curriculum with new courses and new vehicles. Toyota stepped up to the plate by donating about $300,000 worth of vehicles to Clark's program.

Space for students

This year, the program has only five students, but the program has space for 40 students, Godson said. The staff visits high school auto tech programs to recruit potential students.

Students pay roughly $17, 417 to complete Clark's 30-month program. They leave with either an associate degree in automotive technology or a certificate of proficiency, depending on which level of English, math and sociology courses they've taken.

During their internships, students start at $10 per hour, but that increases as they become more proficient. After completing the program, their starting wage ranges from $25,000 to $30,000. Average salaries for experienced technicians range from $55,000 to $60,000, and master technicians can earn $100,000 or more annually.

The cost of the program "will be a bill that I'll be able to pay off and still be lucrative in the long run," Grissom said.

Industry changes

Mike Hall, Grissom's technician mentor, has worked at Dick Hannah Toyota in Longview for 27 years, and said he has seen big changes in the industry.

"I was called a mechanic and a grease monkey for many years. That was the climate of what people thought went on here," Hall said. "But the (heating and cooling) system and electrical systems are complex, with adaptive memory. It's becoming more technical."

Clark's revamped curriculum is more rigorous and focused, said Ken Dent, parts and service director at Dick Hannah Toyota. "Everything they work on is electronic," Dent said. "When I have a guy who comes out of this T-TEN program and he's been exposed to all these electronics, these guys aren't mechanics; they come out of school as being true technicians."

Automotive technician jobs are in demand and aren't easy to fill. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, automotive service technician jobs are expected to add more than 60,000 positions between 2012 and 2022.

People are keeping their cars longer in the recession, said Gary Schuler, who oversees parts and service at all Dick Hannah Dealerships. That's a lot of cars needing service. He says manufacturers are projecting a 30-percent deficit of trained technicians.

Four graduates of Clark's former T-TEN program work in Hall's shop. He said he can't find enough trained people to staff his department. All the dealers are having a hard time filling positions, Clark's Godson says.

"I could definitely use Shaan (Grissom) in my shop right now," Hall said. "That speaks highly of Clark's program. He'll have a trade he'll be able to retire from."

Clark Toyota program