UTI opens vocational school teaching technicians

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
Steve McElfresh, the Bloomfield campus president of Universal Technical Institute, stands in a classroom where automotive technicians are taught.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Universal Technical Institute, a vocational school teaching automotive and diesel technicians, is opening a $12 million facility in Bloomfield on Monday, Aug. 13. The two buildings comprising its campus are located at 1515 Broad St. This is the 13th UTI location in the United States.

According to Steve McElfresh, the Bloomfield campus president, there is growing need for skilled automotive and diesel technicians, but the UTI campus closest to the New York City area was in Pennsylvania. He said it made sense to have a campus in Bloomfield. The curriculum taught at the school is based on input by dealerships and manufacturers, including General Motors, Ford and Penske.

“The industry is struggling to meet its demands for technicians,” McElfresh said earlier this week in his campus office.
Statistics show that more than 100,000 new automotive and diesel technicians will be needed annually by 2026, he said.

Both the automotive and diesel programs at UTI can be completed in less than a year. McElfresh said the programs can also be combined and completed in 14 months. Classes take place during three shifts: morning, afternoon or night. There is also an online component to classwork.

“So when the student comes to class, they know about the subject already,” he said. “It sets the stage.”

For students who don’t own computers, there is a computer lab on the campus.

The school is set to open with about 80 students. When fully up and running, McElfresh said the three shifts of classes will have 800 students. Grading is based on professionalism, attendance and work done in the classroom, lab and online. Having the help of more than 30 original equipment manufacturers in guiding the curriculum is a huge plus, he said.

“We look at the industry as our customer,” he said. “They very much dictate what we do. They provide jobs. Those 30 OEMs are tough customers. They keep things relevant. It’s good for the students. By the picture we paint here, they get an idea about the industry.”
McElfresh said UTI not only wants each graduate to get a job, but keep it, too.

“About 86 percent of the graduates get jobs within a year,” he said. ”There’s an employment department on each campus. We’re really here to support the student.”

And if graduates should move or lose a job, even years later, UTI will help them find another.

The instructors are technicians drawn from the industry.

“We have a pretty robust training program for our instructors,” McElfresh said.

Most UTI student are between 18 and 24 years old, but there are some in their 50s who are making career changes.

Tuition at the school is about $35,000 per year or, for a combination certificate, about $44,000. Financial aid is offered by the school but, according to McElfresh, UTI has been able to influence the industry to help students with tuition-reimbursement plans. Among the big names agreeing to this are Penske, International, Federal Express, Ford and GM. The companies will typically hire a graduate first and then help to pay back their loans.

“The OEMs are stepping up to finance student loans,” McElfresh said. “We have about 3,700 partners offering reimbursement programs.”
And an increasing number of women are being drawing into the field of automotive and diesel technology. McElfresh said about 4 percent of UTI graduates are women. Although there is a lot of bias against women becoming technicians, he said, dealerships love to hire female technicians.

“Women customers, by default, prefer working with female technicians,” he said.

All automotive and diesel systems are taught at UTI. In numerous classroom and large garages, custom-made auto systems that an instructor can “bug” are lined up. There are also “clip cars,” cars that look to be cut in half that are for lessons on the front- or back-end diagnostics and repairs. And the huge refrigeration units for 18-wheelers are also on-site for teaching purposes.

A job board in one of the hallways gives the number of openings in metropolitan areas from coast to coast — an incentive. McElfresh said the future is a serious commitment and UTI is designed to help both the student and employer succeed.