High-Tech Detectives

GM ASEP students are smart and getting smarter

As an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) master certified technician at Valley Buick Pontiac GMC in Apple Valley, Minn., Bob Riggin of Lakeville knows exactly how fast the automotive industry is changing.

“GM is coming out with more and more sophisticated vehicles all the time,” Riggin said. “We learn something new almost every day and are constantly upgrading our skills and knowledge.”

Known as the top dog in his shop, Riggin is a graduate of the General Motors Automotive Service Educational Program (ASEP) at Dakota County Technical College and has nearly 20 years of experience in his field. He is well on his way toward achieving GM World Class Technician status, which will put him in a select group of some 1,400 technicians nationwide.

Jim Paul, the owner of Valley Buick Pontiac GMC, considers Riggin a prime example of why ASEP is so important to his business. “DCTC’s ASEP grads are a defined commodity,” Paul said. “The guys are ready to go. They understand the systems and have the right diagnostic skills.”

Paul noted that his dealership has better luck with ASEP technicians than with technicians hired through the open market. “Gone are the days when we hired mechanics off the farm or from filling stations,” he said. “GM systems are just too complex—it would be like going out and picking up dentistry. Our technicians need a college education.”

Ron Groves, the service manager at Valley, has been with GM for 26 years. A staunch believer in the program, Groves pointed out that every ASEP student goes through a paid internship that departs from traditional internship models. ASEP students earn while they learn—and as GM employees from the outset of their studies, they are guaranteed a job after graduation.

“We treat our ASEP interns as apprentices,” Groves said. “We know that they are here to learn. Half the technicians in our shop are from ASEP.”

Groves went on to say that Mark Hickman and Tim McCluskey, DCTC ASEP instructors and GM World Class Technicians, make sure that the program produces superbly qualified candidates for the internships.

Tim McCluskey reported that GM launched ASEP in Michigan back in 1969 as a way to train top-rate technicians for GM dealerships. DCTC was one of the first 20 colleges in the country chosen to deliver the program. GM made the decision to design the program as an A.A.S. degree, which would give graduates the academic foundation and life skills they needed to advance in the corporation.

“Today’s graduates are fully prepared to work as highly specialized automotive service technicians at GM dealers and ACDelco Total Service Support shops,” McCluskey said. “Because they also have a well-rounded education, many of our graduates go on to become shop foremen, service advisors, service managers and managers at the corporate level.”

“Our ASEP students are extremely intelligent. If they apply that intelligence and focus on their coursework, they will have the chance to work in one of the most technologically advanced industries in the world.”

McCluskey also commented on the economic problems facing the world’s automobile industry, including GM. He noted that GM is poised to emerge from its current difficulties to become a stronger and more flexible corporation that will help America take the lead in designing and building clean cars.

“GM is going in the right direction with the Chevy Volt,” he said, “an extended-range electric vehicle with a revolutionary propulsion system aimed at making the daily commute gas-free for 75 percent of America’s drivers.”

One aspect of the downturn actually favors ASEP technicians and their workload at a dealership. History shows that slowdowns in new car sales are paralleled by greater investment in the maintenance and repair of vehicles already on the road.

ASEP grad Steve Stripsky of Eagan completed his internship at Valley and is now one of the dealer’s full-time service technicians. Stripsky took full advantage of the program to build a career with super pay, excellent benefits and proven job security in an established industry where outsourcing isn’t an option.

“Keep on working hard,” he advised current ASEP students. “Don’t take anything for granted and take to heart what you’re taught.”

Tim McCluskey could not agree more. “Our ASEP students are extremely intelligent,” he said. “If they apply that intelligence and focus on their coursework, they will have the chance to work in one of the most technologically advanced industries in the world.”

Rolling Strong

ASEP students gain paid work experience at sponsoring GM dealers or ACDelco TSS shops. As interns, students apply technical knowledge and diagnostic skills in real-world situations.

The ASEP labs at DCTC are equipped with the latest GM technology, including vehicles, components, training aids and technical information, giving the college’s ASEP grads the know-how and problem-solving tools they need to keep pace with tomorrow’s computer-oriented technology.

ISEEK, the go-to source for education and employment info in Minnesota, lists the following salary data for the seven-county metro area:

Automotive Service Technicians

  • Average Wage: $20.10
  • Top Earners: $29.71