Roswell has its first state-approved apprenticeship program, one involving Krumland Auto Group and Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell.
The program became official Dec. 14, but it builds on about 11 years of cooperation and efforts between Krumland and ENMU-R as well as other organizations and professionals, including Mike Espiritu and the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp.
“We put it in on steroids when the community and the schools started talking about CTE, career technical education,” said Mike Moore, executive director at Krumland Auto Group, which owns several dealerships in southeast New Mexico.
Moore referred to a series of workshops and meetings that began in October 2018 and involved the EDC, several local employers, educators with public school districts in Chaves County, and ENMU-R administrators. The topic was how to train students for high-paying technical jobs in the area.
Moore explained that Krumland already had established a scholarship program for students in the ENMU-R automotive technology program. Over the years, the company also has offered about 40 internships to students, including about eight who work with the company now.
After the CTE meetings began, Rochelle Lentschke, apprenticeship coordinator for Eastern New Mexico Workforce Connections, became involved in establishing the formal apprenticeship program, which she said had to be “built from scratch.”
The program can assist employers with training funds, and the paid work can help students afford their education. The ENMU-R apprenticeship program also will help students pay for books and tools.
“I looked at their program and saw that what they were basically doing fit very well with what the apprenticeship model is about,” Lentschke said. “I think we’ve built a program that we are really proud of and that we look forward to growing in the future.”
She said the program allows students to put into practice what they are learning in the classroom right away and assures them of being career-ready upon graduation.
Eric Gomez, instructor of automotive technology at ENMU-R, said the school offers both a certificate and an Associate of Applied Science degree in the field. But the Krumland apprenticeship is available only to those enrolled in the two-year degree program.
“That shows us their level of commitment and putting the skin in the game into that program,” Moore said.
Moore said Gomez will identify the “star” students interested in staying in automotive technician fields for the longterm.
“The whole thing for us is growing our own technicians,” he said. “What it has cost the Krumland Auto Group to recruit a technician from out of state and bring them in, you could be looking in excess of $25,000 to $30,000 to bring in a technician that we don’t know is going to stick around. By doing this with this program, we’re getting rooted families in southeast New Mexico, in Roswell and in the Carlsbad and Artesia area, that live here, their parents live here. Their parents are pillars and members of the community. We make it a partnership. It is not just with the students and with Eric. We get the parents involved as well.”
Gomez said that, during the first two semesters, most students will attend classes Monday through Thursday, but can work at the job site Fridays and Saturdays. By the second year, with many of the automotive education classes covered, they can take their English, math and computer courses at night and work full time or close to that. Employers also will provide monthly evaluations.
Jim Collins, a service manager with Krumland’s Toyota dealership, said apprentices will follow auto manufacturers’ lesson plans to earn manufacturers’ certifications. By the end of the second year, they could earn higher-level factory certifications and be on their path to earning master certifications. According to automotive professionals who spoke with ENMU-R students in February, experienced and factory-certified technicians can earn more than $100,000 a year.
Johnathan Zavala of Roswell is the first apprentice, becoming an employee of Krumland’s Roswell Ford dealership about 10 days ago.
Zavala is about two-thirds through his degree program. Moore described Zavala as a “ball of excitement” and said they wanted him as a member of the Krumland team. But, ideally, he said, apprenticeships will begin the day the students start their academic program.
Zavala said he is honing his skills and learning to be part of the professional setting.
“The automotive school is great. I have learned a lot from Mr. Gomez,” he said. “But a lot of what you learn at school is theory.”
He said that he has about a year of on-the-job experience, but has been paired at Krumland with a master technician with decades of experience. He said many auto shops are known as highly competitive. He said he has been impressed with how Krumland employees treat him and how willing they are to share tools and knowledge.
He describes himself as committed to staying in Roswell and with Krumland, and said he would like to become a senior master technician eventually or perhaps a service manager.
“I have my parents’ full support on something like this, too,” he said. “They love this program, especially since I’m working on Fords.”
He explained that his dad has been a fan of Ford trucks for a long time.
Gomez said he predicts there will be strong demand from students to participate in the program and thinks it will help the school increase its enrollment. He also thinks the apprenticeship program could expand to include other Krumland dealerships or other companies in nearby communities.
Gomez said the program provides “360-degree” support, with financial benefits, hands-on learning and professional training of all types.
“All of my students have to wear uniforms. That is part of the program. Every student has to wear a uniform and the uniform consists of a work shirt with the university name on it,” Gomez said. “But this young man will be wearing a Ford uniform. I think that will help him with professionalism, help him grow as a technician, and I think it will help the program grow.”
Moore said Krumland is willing to take a lot more students as apprentices if they are dedicated about academics and future careers.
“This is a serious program. This is not something we are taking lightly,” he said. “We will promote and take as many as we can out of Eric’s class at the college. We are always looking for new technicians and new students, young kids, to become part of our business, the automotive industry.”
Moore also said that Krumland considers itself an “ambassador” for the automotive apprenticeship model in the state as the first to introduce it. He calls the current program “phase one,” and predicts that it will grow and improve in the years ahead.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.