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Hunger to learn attracts top auto educators to Chicago

Trainers, instructors take advantage of the opportunity for scholarship-covered classes to further their own training
Monday, February 9, 2015 - 09:00
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With his first spoken word being “car,” it might have been inevitable that Michael McConnell would wind up working in the automotive industry. And with his penchant to stay on top of technical training, it also might have been inevitable that he would sign up for Automechanika Chicago, a trade show created by Messe Frankfurt and Advanstar Communications, Inc. (publishers of Motor Age and ABRN) to address the pressing need for ongoing technical training in the auto repair/collision industry that has changed more in the last ten years than it has in its entire history.

The need to attend Automechanika Chicago, which will be held at McCormick Place West April 24-26, is underscored by the level of sophistication, expertise and experience of McConnell and many other highly educated and experienced trainers who will be in attendance.

McConnell, a service technical trainer, will represent Fremont, Calif.-based Tesla Motors, which is recognized as one of the world’s leading electric vehicle manufacturers. Although Tesla’s training, offered through the Tesla Academy, covers some of the most sophisticated automotive training available, McConnell has signed up for six sessions (out of the 116) that he deems crucial to furthering his automotive education: Team-Based Learning Flipping the Classroom; Mastering Voltage Drop; Mastering CAN Bus Failures; Hybrid Vehicle Isolation and Interlock Faults; Electrical Quick Diagnosis Repairs. (For a complete list, go to

McConnell knows the value of an event that brings others like him together. “My main reason for attending Automechanika Chicago is that I love to learn. I am hoping to make some new contacts in the industry while attending this show…I want to learn from them while attending this event.”

With 15 years teaching experience under his belt, ASE certification and a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology Education from Purdue University, McConnell should be able to reciprocate with his peers. He brings the experience of helping train 600 technicians located around the globe. The technicians are from most of the OEMs and have various skill levels so McConnell needs to be well versed across the training spectrum.

Louie Longhi’s plan is to “get to Automechanika Chicago early to visit with vendors and go to classes.” Longhi, program director and lead instructor for Mechanics’ Local 701 Education & Training Program in Carol, Stream, Ill., emphasizes, “I expect to learn updated information and techniques that I can bring back to my classroom to help my students be better prepared for their career.”

ASE certified (Master and L-1) for 25 years, Longhi adds that if he has any extra time at the show, he’ll spend it with the vendors, because “having access to them all in one place is a luxury.”

In making his decision to attend Automechanika Chicago, the special scholarship offer (the show organizers awarded 2,000 scholarships to defer the cost of attending the show) was key for Matt Beukema, automotive technology instructor for Osseo Senior High School, Osseo, Minn. “The sessions look very informative and worthwhile, but the scholarship sealed the deal for me. In fact, I would not have been able to convince my district supervisor to allow me to go without the scholarship offer.”

Beukema epitomizes what an automotive instructor should be. He is ASE-certified, has earned a Bachelor of Science in Technology Education and a master’s degree in Teaching and Learning while working in a shop for 21 years. Moreover, he has 12 years’ experience in the automotive classroom. With this background, it’s not surprising to learn that he is already making plans for the next Automechanika Chicago because of the quality and diverse technical sessions, the expert instructors and the range and quality of vendors who will be exhibiting. “In the future, I would love to bring students to this environment to help them understand that they will never be done learning and that this is a continually evolving career.”

According to Beukema, many of his students seek further schooling even after landing jobs at local shops and dealerships. He adds, “They make good money.” Apparently, that resonates with Osseo’s student population because there are more than 140 students in the automotive program and more than that waiting to get into the program.

Another highly qualified educator who is attending for many reasons but highlights “the great line up of talented instructors” and the “wonderful venue” as his top two reasons is Mark Larsen, training manager at CarX Tire & Auto Training, Sycamore, Ill., To the former point, Larsen, who has been an automotive instructor for 25 years and an ASE Master Tech and L-1 for more than 30 years, says, “You can never go wrong with Vince Fischelli, Bernie Thompson, and of course, hybrid and GDI courses.”

And you can’t go wrong attending Automechanika Chicago where educators such as Larsen, who also is a former GM technician, college instructor, major brake trainer and U.S. Army instructor, will be in attendance to learn and to share a wealth of experience.


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