Driven To Learn
The making of the first-ever automotive recycling college program.
Nine months ago I was given the challenge to create the Automotive Recycling program for Waubonsee Community College. As I began developing the program I soon learned the impact the auto recycling industry had in moving our culture to a more sustainable future, perhaps more than any other industry in the world.

Until recent years, most consumers believed that their problems were over when they left their garbage at the curb or traded their old, worn out car in at the dealer. But what most of them did not know is that the auto recycling industry is one of the industries that has been playing a key role behind the scenes, one that transforms what used to be thought of as waste into usable and viable resources.

This is one of the first things I learned about the industry and one of the major reasons Waubonsee Community College saw the need to create a program that educates students on the skills and knowledge needed to enter into the auto recycling industry.

First, A Little History Lesson

This started two years ago when Ken Kunz, Professor of Automotive Technology for Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, Illinois, met with Sean Krause, owner of Speedway Auto, Ltd. in Joliet, Illinois, and came up with the idea to teach an auto recycling class. They realized that with the abundance of new technology incorporated into vehicles today and the ever-increasing Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations being imposed on the industry, there would be a need for a more skilled employee within this field.

Two years later, with two auto recycling classes under their belt, Waubonsee Community College was asked by the Illinois Green Economy Network (IGEN), a consortium of 48 Illinois community colleges who encourage green initiatives and is funded by a grant from the Department of Labor, to partner in creating an auto recycling course to add to IGEN’s list of classes that promote green and sustainable careers. Seeing that the automobile is one of the most recycled machines on the planet, this was a perfect opportunity for Waubonsee to bring their auto recycling program to the next level.

Program in Action

Waubonsee’s new Automotive Recycling program was launched in June of this year and is being taught in a combined format that includes both online and in-class instruction, allowing easier access for students. The program focuses not only on the skills that are already required in the industry, such as vehicle dismantling, Inventory Management System (IMS), and parts grading, but also introduces the environmental practices that have influenced change in the industry.

The learning path that each student takes begins with an overview of the industry and the direction it has gone, then moves into safety and safe shop practices. The class then takes the student through the entire process of managing a vehicle that has reached its end-of-life stage and emulates real-life work experience with all the tools and equipment necessary, including IMS software, depollutioning stations and forklifts. The goal of the program is to mirror what is happening in the field now, as well as implement new and innovative technology and procedures to help advance the industry.

Technology and innovation have aided in creating a safer and more profitable business environment for all industries. They have helped streamline inventory and manufacturing processes, enhanced working environments to be more efficient and safe, and brought our world together to allow us to communicate farther and more effectively across our entire planet. But to survive the technological adolescence we are now experiencing we must keep our focus on educating our workforce.

We must try to find the direction that will allow us to take advantage of opportunities that will be made available to us as well as transform our attitudes of yesterday into tomorrow’s possibilities. This is the view chosen in creating Waubonsee’s Automotive Recycling program, along with the thought that if we want to be competitive locally and globally, we need to develop the educational models that keep pace with new technology. This will allow us to deliver the right education for tomorrow’s workforce. 

I would like to thank everyone that has helped Waubonsee in developing our auto recycling course. This all would not be possible if it wasn’t for the cooperation and input of several ARA members including Sean Krause of Speedway Auto, Doug and Dave Anderson of I-55 Auto Salvage, Jay and Larry Brosten of Auto Parts City, Paulette Cuvala & Mark Sievert of LKQ Corporation, Jim Hope of Stafford’s Auto Parts & Recycling and especially Ginny Whelan, ARA Educational Foundation Executive Director and ARA University President.

We depend on input from the ARA and local automotive recyclers to give us direction on what is needed in today’s industry and we hope to continue to work together to achieve the goal of a brighter future and a better tomorrow.

Pat O’Connor is the Automotive Recycling Program Developer at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, Illinois.

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