Growing up in Niagara Falls, N.Y., Tyler O’Callahan loved to get his hands dirty tinkering with four wheelers and dirt bikes. So when he went on to Niagara Falls High School, it’s no wonder he decided to check out the Niagara Frontier Auto Dealers Association’s Ron Smith Memorial AutoTech Competition.
The local competition is open to Western New York high school juniors and seniors enrolled in a Career & Technical school automotive program. Junior’s get their first taste of the program by participating in a Tire Rodeo, while seniors have a chance to put their overall automotive skills to the test and earn scholarships and other prizes. O’Callahan, now 22, participated in both competitions and in his senior year, went on to win the local competition and earn a spot at the national competition.
“At first I just wanted to try out the AutoTech program so I could learn a little more about cars,” O’Callahan said. “But then I really started enjoying it because it was so hands on.”
As a participant in the NFADA’s competition, O’Callahan caught the eye of Bob Chavanne, service manager at Steve Baldo Ford in Niagara Falls. Chavanne has had a long and successful career in the auto repair industry. He landed his first job in the business in 1985, and has now been at Steve Baldo Ford for a decade. He has also been on the NFADA/Ron Smith competition planning committee as a volunteer for 13 years.
After completing his junior year of high school, O’Callahan was offered a job at the Niagara Falls dealership. Initially, he just shadowed the more experienced auto technicians in an effort to learn as much about auto repair as possible. He was also tasked with some of the smaller jobs, such as oil changes. He’s been there ever since.
“After graduating from high school, Bob Chavanne sponsored me in Ford ASSET*, a two-year auto tech program at Erie Community College’s Vehicle Technology Training Center,” O’Callahan said of his employer. And today, the experienced auto technician is successfully handling “whatever needs to be done” when a vehicle pulls in for service at Steve Baldo Ford.
Perhaps more importantly, he also continues to give back to the NFADA’s AutoTech competition, serving as a judge for the local Tire Rodeo competition. “It’s nice to help out and keep the program going, because I know what it did for me,” O’Callahan said.
“The business has changed to a point where today’s automotive technicians are truly diagnostic people,” said Chavanne. “In the old days, you could throw a guy into a garage to just change tires and oil. Today’s technicians — if they don’t have the schooling and the skills — can’t get into the industry. A lot of the diagnostic work done today is done with the aid of a laptop computer. We no longer have ‘grease monkeys.’ Auto technicians are kind of like car doctors now, so it’s very important to have an education and hands-on experience. The AutoTech program gives them both!
“If you love to work on cars, the future is very bright and you can find a job right here in Western New York,” added Chavanne. “And, needing only two years of college, you won’t go broke in the process.”
Not a bad return on investment for those driven to succeed!
* ASSET is a 24-month associate degree program. Students alternate between the classroom and work at their sponsoring Ford or Lincoln dealerships. Studies include academics and Ford-developed automotive technology curriculum.
For more information regarding the NFADA/Ron Smith Memorial AutoTech Competition, please visit www.nfada.com. Frequent updates can also be found on the competition’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/NfadaRonSmithMemorialAutotechCompetition?fref=ts.