Harrison County School District

The coronavirus pandemic has catapulted many ‘essential’ jobs into the national spotlight and highlighted the important roles the workers play in keeping society functioning during this global health crisis. Many people are now realizing that people who work in fields like healthcare, law enforcement, transportation, agriculture, and manufacturing are critical infrastructure employees. The Harrison County Career and Technical Center in the Harrison County School District is constantly searching for innovative partnerships to showcase the value of Career and Technical Education as vital to the American economy.

According to SkillsUSA, 10 million new skilled workers were needed by 2020 in jobs like construction, engineering, manufacturing, and technology: (Document Uploaded: NCC, Industry Partners Celebrate SkillsUSA Week (nashccnews.com)). A September 2015 article in Forbes stated: “Not everyone goes to college. The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Statistics showed that about 68% of high school students attend college. That means over 30% graduate with neither academic nor job skills.”  

The Harrison County Career and Technical Center (HCCTC) is hoping to fill some of the needs through its mission of delivering high-level career training and employability skill opportunities while promoting the highest level of academic achievement for our students. The HCCTC serves about 300 students from all three high schools in the District, and one of its most popular programs is Automotive Technology: The HCCTC recently rolled out a unique partnership with a local car dealership to help rev-up even more interest in the program and make the courses more relevant to students.

In October of 2018, the Ford Motor Company selected the HCCTC to participate in a training and mentorship program with Butch Oustalet Dealerships in South Mississippi. The program is called Ford ACE, which stands for “Automotive Career Exploration”. The HCCTC was chosen for ACE based on the quality of the center's Automotive Technology program. This first-of-its-kind partnership in the District would allow Auto Tech students to sharpen their skills, earn a competitive wage, and get on the path to potential employment. Rhonda Maddox, career and technical counselor at the HCCTC, coordinated with Doug Johnson, technical talent program specialist with the Ford Motor Company, to bring the Ford ACE curriculum to the District. The intent of ACE is to raise awareness and increase interest in career opportunities within the automotive industry. Butch Oustalet Ford dealership in Gulfport signed on as the program sponsor. Maddox stated: “This is the kind of experience we just can’t give students in a classroom environment. You can only get this in the real world. When they came to us and offered a paid internship for our students to learn, it’s hard to pass that up for our students.”

One major benefit of the ACE program is the opportunity for high school instructors and students to get exclusive access to Ford web-based training, the same online curriculum that is used by technicians at Ford dealerships nationwide. The training is housed within a Ford Learning Management System: Along with providing the online lessons, Butch Oustalet Ford also sent its technicians to the HCCTC to provide students with expert instruction and guidance.

Once students receive the training, they may be eligible to apply for a paid internship position with Butch Oustalet Ford. The students must prepare and submit their resumes and go through an interview process with the Butch Oustalet car dealership team.

Two seniors from Harrison Central High became the first students in the District to be hired by Butch

Oustalet for the internship program. The interns received specialized training and mentorship by working alongside experienced technicians in the afternoons and on weekends. Butch Oustalet Dealerships Service Manager, Eddie Seal, understands the need for auto techs. Seal served on a Ford advisory committee in Detroit for three years. The group focused on technician recruitment, retention, and training.

Seal stated: “Butch Oustalet, along with the Ford Motor Company, has identified a shortage of young people wanting to learn trades. This has created a demand in the workforce in several fields. Our advisory committee learned that getting them interested at a young age pays dividends in the long run, especially with an aging workforce of automotive technicians.”

In September of 2019, Butch Oustalet Ford invited a group of second-year Auto Tech students to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the business. The students spent the day meeting with the management and employees and learning about various careers that the automotive industry offers. The students also had the chance to see first-hand how the ACE program can give them hands-on work experience and help them advance in the automotive industry.

Once the interns graduate from high school, they have an opportunity to apply for a full-time position at Butch Oustalet Ford. The dealership will also assist students who are interested in advancing their automotive education at the community college level. According to Seal: “Our average income here in our service department for our technicians fluctuates between $60,000-$75,000. The top guys are earning closer to $100,000 a year. In South Mississippi, that’s a really good living!”

One of the interns in the Ford ACE program went on to pursue his dream by enrolling in an Auto Tech program at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. He will be graduating with an Associate Degree in May of 2021. The second intern also graduated from high school and has enlisted in the military. The Auto Tech students are appreciative of the invaluable experience they have received through the Ford ACE partnership. The program is more than just about developing and retaining the best possible future technicians. It also supports the HCCTC’s mission of promoting personal growth, skill attainment, goal setting, and leadership roles that ensure success in the world of work and in life.

Community Partners:
Butch Oustalet Dealerships