When Tony Harmon was in high school, he knew he wanted a career that involved computers. But after graduation, he found himself working at an auto repair shop where his days were largely spent performing oil changes.
After 18 months, Harmon realized he needed to make a change if he was going to spend his days working with technology.
So, in 2014, Harmon came to Metro Transit, enrolled in Hennepin Technical College’s Medium/Heavy Truck Technology program and spent the next two years working while pursuing an Associate’s Degree.
Harmon now regularly uses computer-based diagnostics to troubleshoot and repair steering and suspension systems on Metro Transit’s buses. With the prospect of advancement and a stream of new challenges, he hopes to continue working at Metro Transit for the rest of his career.
“Once I got in here and saw what the mechanics were doing, I was completely sold,” Harmon said.
During a recent visit to Osseo High School, Harmon and other Mechanic-Technicians shared their experiences with about 30 seniors and juniors in the school’s introductory and advanced auto technology classes facing a similar crossroads in their young lives.
The students also heard from a representative of the union that represents transit employees, ATU Local 1005, about the job’s benefits – a starting salary of more than $24 an hour, medical coverage and a pension – and got a closer look at what working at Metro Transit might be like.
Panels and seats were removed on a bus so students could see the inner-workings and a series of exercises were set up to provide hands-on experiences that mimic work done by Mechanic-Technicians. (In the most popular test, students were timed using an impact drill to secure a ring with lug nuts.)
Similar events will be held at a handful of area schools this month as part of a first-of-its-kind effort to generate interest in transit, a field that isn’t always top of mind for young people considering a career in vehicle maintenance. The focus is on students who are participating in the Automotive Youth Educational System, which includes courses in basic automotive and diesel technology.
For high schoolers approaching graduation, the events also offer an opportunity hear about a new training program that combines customized college readiness coursework, a Metro Transit internship and a scholarship to Saint Paul College, where they can earn an AAS degree.
The hope is to put promising students on a path toward a full-time job at Metro Transit, filling the agency’s growing need for mechanics while giving young people a head start on their careers. Metro Transit employs more than 250 mechanics and more than a third of them are above the age of 55.
“Across the industry, skilled mechanics are in short supply,” said Rob Milleson, Metro Transit’s Director of Bus Maintenance. “With a large number of our mechanics approaching retirement, it’s critical that we introduce a new generation to transit.”
Matt Beukema, who teaches auto technology classes at Osseo, said the exposure provided during the recent visit is invaluable to students deciding their next move. Students in his classes work on donated used vehicles and visit dealerships, so the chance to view a bus up close is unique eye-opening, he said.
“For these students to be able to see this is huge,” said Beukema, whose background is in auto repair and over the road truck driving. “A lot of them just don’t know what’s out there, and this isn’t necessarily what comes to mind.”
Among those who came away with a new appreciation for buses was Osseo senior Dontae Frazier, who grew up riding the bus but without realizing all of the components involved in making it run.
“I found out there is a lot of electrical work, which is actually something I want to get better at,” Frazier said.
Though he’s still not exactly sure what his future holds, Frazier said he is open to learning more about transit, particularly since it would give him more room to work.
“I didn’t think I was going to like it, but this was a great opportunity to learn about what you could be able to do,” he said. “Plus, I’m a big dude. I need space, and this has that.”
Metro Transit is hiring Mechanic-Technicians. Applicants should have graduated a two-year vocational program in diesel mechanics or related field or have a high school diploma/GED and two years of full-time vehicle diagnostic/repair experience. Learn more and apply here. To learn more about the training-internship program with Saint Paul College contact Aaron Koski at email@example.com.