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California Students Win Auto Skills Competition


Daniel Lehmkuhl and Austin Castro of San Luis Obispo High School of California are the winners of the 2007 Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills National Finals competition held at Ford World Headquarters Tuesday.

Teams from across the country squared off in a two-part competition consisting of a written exam and a timed, hands-on portion where they raced to correctly diagnose and repair identically “bugged” Ford Fusions.

“We felt fairly relaxed during the competition,” Lehmkuhl said. “It was just us against the car.”

By topping a field of 50 teams -- one from each state -- the California teens each receive a $2,500 general education scholarships from Ford and AAA. In addition, the students can choose from full tuition scholarships from one of several technical colleges. The students’ high school instructor Jeff Lehmkuhl, father of competitor Daniel Lehmkuhl, returns to San Luis Obispo with a trophy for the school.

“Daniel and Austin proved they are America’s most auto-savvy teens,” said Allan Stanley, manager of Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills. “Their hard work and drive to be the top high school auto technicians is typical of all of the participants in the competition. The auto industry must attract such dedicated young people to keep America’s vehicles operating safely and trouble-free.”

The remaining top 10 teams, in order, were Saline High School in Michigan, Doherty High School in Colorado, Lake Norman High School in North Carolina, Fauquier High School in Virginia, Trumbull Career & Technical Center in Ohio, Mid America Technology Center in Oklahoma, South Shore Vocational Technical High School in Massachusetts, Vale High School in Oregon, and Maui High School in Hawaii.

Teams placing second through 10th in the Ford/AAA contest received general education scholarships valued from $2,000 to $400 from Ford and AAA as well as partial scholarships to top-rated auto tech colleges.

The 14th annual Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition encourages high school students to pursue careers in the automotive field, where there is a shortage of qualified, trained technicians. The program, the only one of its kind in the United States, also educates students about increasing career opportunities.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the auto industry will need 35,000 new technicians every year through 2010. Entry-level technicians earn approximately $30,000-$35,000 per year, and master technicians in some areas have annual salaries that reach into the $70,000-$100,000 range.

“The additional training these young contestants will receive in technical colleges can open many doors for them at Ford and in our dealer network, paving the way to lucrative automotive careers,” said Frank Ligon, director, Service Engineering Operations, Ford Customer Service Division.

“This is a great time to embark on an automotive service career,” Ligon added, explaining that the already high demand for skilled workers will grow as the number of vehicles continues to rise, more alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles requiring new skills enter the marketplace, and older auto tech workers retire.

The Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competition stresses the need for diagnostic and problem-solving skills, mathematics and electronics knowledge, and mechanical aptitude to understand how to service increasingly technology-driven vehicles.

“These competitors represent America’s best and brightest automotive students,” said John Nielsen, director of the AAA Approved Auto Repair program. “All will showcase their talents in Dearborn, then, we hope, go onto further training to prepare for the important job of keeping America’s cars on the road and in good repair.”


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