March 21, 2017

by Bob Keyes

PORTSMOUITH — Great Bay Community College will offer an automotive technology certificate program beginning this fall.

The program responds to an immediate need in the Seacoast for certified auto mechanics, said Debra Mattson, a Great Bay administrator.

The 24-credit program will take one year to complete and classes will be held in the late afternoon and evening at the Richard W. Creteau Regional Technology Center in Rochester.

“The goal is to train students as entry-level technicians to perform inspections, diagnostics, maintenance and repairs on cars and light trucks,” she said. “Employers have told us they cannot find qualified technicians in the Seacoast area.”

The New Hampshire Department of Labor projects there will be more than 1,200 openings for automotive technicians in the Seacoast through 2022. Great Bay is working with the New Hampshire Auto Dealers Association to design the curriculum.

George Dykstra, a New Hampshire Automotive Education Foundation board member, said the state does a good job preparing students to become technicians, but there’s been a hole since Great Bay moved from its previous home in Stratham to Portsmouth in 2009.

“We approached Great Bay,” Dykstra said. “Our primary focus is job readiness, to develop the fundamental skills necessary to go to work. Within one year, we’re going to get them job-ready.”

Students will develop investigative skills to diagnose problems, learn to use power tools, hand tools and diagnostic tools, and become familiar with manuals and reference materials. The courses will prepare them for ASE industry exams, and also provide a pathway for an associate’s degree if students want to continue their education. Associate’s degrees are currently offered at Lakes Region Community College in Laconia and Manchester Community College.

Peter McNamara, president of the New Hampshire Automobile Dealers Association, said there are 400 openings for mechanics across the state right now and 200 are entry-level positions.

“These men and women, they can write their own ticket,” he said. “They can stay close to home or they can go anywhere they want in the country.”

Median pay for an auto technician in New Hampshire is $42,000 annually, with a high of $64,000. Students in the Great Bay certificate program can expect to earn wages on the lower side of the range. An associate’s degree and ASE certifications increase earning capacity.

They’re good careers, McNamara said, and the Great Bay program offers a fast and efficient means of earning a good wage quickly.

“The average wage around here is about $58,000 a year, with a 401(k) and health care and a 40-hour week,” he said.

Automotive technology today is all about diagnostics, he said, and the industry changes with each new model year of vehicles.

“You go into a shop nowadays, what you will see are technicians with laptops plugged into a car,” McNamara said. “Seventy-percent of the job is diagnostic, using your head and using your computer to figure what’s wrong before you start pulling the car apart.”

Mattson expects most of the students who enroll will be recent high school graduates. The program will accommodate 15 students each semester and those slots are expected to fill quickly.

McNamara praised Great Bay for working with the auto dealers to fill the void.

“There was no formal automotive training in that area,” he said. “The recommendation came from our board of directors: ‘Let’s close that gap.’ Great Bay was quick to jump on it.”

The program is pending approval for financial aid. For information, visit