Dakota Dabney has been fascinated with how things work for as long as he can remember. Some of his earliest memories are of working alongside his father and helping him repair vehicles.
“I like working with my hands,” the Louisa County High School senior said. “When I was a child, I would always be taking apart my toys.”
From the time he was about five years old, members of his family allowed him to work on their vehicles with him.
By the time he entered high school, his natural aptitude helped him excel in his automotive classes. Last year, Dabney was the only junior at the high school to receive two National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence certifications.
He hasn’t decided whether to attend a technical school or begin his career immediately after high school graduation. In the meantime, he’s exploring his options while apprenticing with Besley Implements in Mineral through the school’s career and technology education program.
In its second year, the CTE program is led by director Bo Bundrick. His mission has been to build the “putting kids in jobs model” that the school board and board of supervisors envisioned when they funded the program two years ago.
In its pilot year, the CTE program placed 36 students in apprenticeships or internships that will help them earn credentials and on the job training. Twenty-four students have been matched with sponsor employers in the first three months of the school year.
As a comprehensive high school, the CTE program makes it easy for employers to hire students. The school provides the related instruction needed and the employers provide the on-the-job training.
“So, it’s a great partnership,” Bundrick said. “That’s how it’s supposed to work.”
Dabney has worked as one of five staff members at Besley Implements for a year now after school, on weekends, during school breaks and over the summer earning $10.50 per hour while learning.
It’s been a win-win situation for both. Dabney earns while he learns and the small family-owned business has a dependable employee they can rely on to get the job done.
“It’s been a very positive experience for us, really, from multiple aspects,” Brooks Besley said, adding that Dabney has blended in well with the company.
And as much as his co-workers enjoy having him around, Dabney likes being a part of the team. Working with customers has also helped him come out of his shell.
“I think it has expanded his outlook,” Bundrick said. “He was more geared toward working by himself. He’s really branched out. I think he’s done a nice job.”
When he joined Besley Implements, Dabney said he watched other technicians work on chain saws and leaf blower engines, as well as learned how to research and order the parts that were needed. By springtime, he was sent out to his own bay to begin working on lawn mowers and other equipment.
At first, he serviced the engines and sharpened blades. As he grew more comfortable with the work, he was given greater responsibilities and now is able to do a wide variety of work for the company.
“To have someone who is learning … makes me slow down as a technician and use a more methodical approach to diagnosis,” Jack Besley said.
The small-engine repair industry is seeing an evolution as manufacturers move away from the mechanical-style controls to electronic controls. Technicians are increasingly using computerized diagnostic tools to read trouble codes and determine what’s wrong with an engine.
As a result, finding qualified technicians is a challenge industry-wide. Jack said that he would prefer to create his own qualified technician rather than having to struggle to find one. Being a sponsor of the high school’s CTE program is an important piece of that puzzle.
“You’ve got to have hands to turn wrenches, and if we’re going to have technicians and I feel we can be part of the solution, then we need to be a part of the solution,” he said.
All Jack said he needs is someone with a mechanical aptitude who shows up for work, isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty, is polite with the public, does what they’re told and is easy to get along with.
“I can teach them the rest,” he said.
Repair technicians need to have skills in science, technology, engineering and math, as well as critical thinking. Being able to approach a problem, break it down and find a solution is key, as is being able to know your limits.
Jack praised the fact that Dabney, who has a real knack for the work, is quick to ask for help when he realizes he is out of his element.
“In this industry, you can be the fool for a moment to ask the question, or you can be a fool forever and you never say anything,” Jack said. “I don’t have time to be a fool forever.”
Jack himself doesn’t hesitate to call technician services or a service advisor when he is stumped on a particular problem.
“My customers depend on that machine,” Jack said. “I don’t have time to sit here and beat my head against the wall for three days to figure it out when I can place a phone call, and in 30 minutes, get my answer and get back to work.”
The apprenticeship program has been beneficial in teaching Dabney the nuts and bolts of an industry he is considering entering after high school.
“Jack got me tearing apart an engine and now I can tear apart an engine,” he said.”It makes me proud that I can fix somebody’s issue that doesn’t know how to do it.”
For Besley Implements, which is seeing greater demand for its services, the program has allowed them to bring someone on board that they can train and who can help ease the workload.
“It’s worked out,” Jack said. “Should [Dabney] decide to move on to other endeavors, which is never a bad thing, I’m going to go to Bo Bundrick and say ‘Give me another one.’ I’m going to need somebody.”
And Bundrick is more than happy to do that if the need arises. He compared his role to that of a human resources manager.
“It’s very rewarding for me … employers get quality employees that they can train, and we’re putting students in jobs which are going to be measured on down the road and we’re teaching real-world experiences,” he said.
Currently, there are more than 50 employee sponsors signed up for the program. Bundrick is seeking more employers who are willing to participate in focused, coordinated internships and registered apprenticeships in Louisa and the surrounding counties.
To tie everything together, the CTE department uses an app called Cued-In, which allows high school and adult education students to search for existing jobs in real time. There is also a parent and teacher portal.
“We were the first to partner with Cued-In and pilot the program,” Bundrick said. “They’re building the app while we’re driving it.”
For more information about the program, or becoming an employer sponsor, contact Bundrick at (540) 894-5115, extension 7031, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Article by Deana Meredith (The Central Virginian)