Automotive dealers bring Chrysler training to Alaska

New UAA partnership allows technicians to certify in state

Faculty and attendees listen as Kelly Faley, territory relations manager with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, speaks during a kickoff event for the company’s new partnership with UAA (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage).

Want to work on the Dodge Challenger? Or a Jeep Wrangler? Maybe that rare winterized Maserati or Alfa Romeo?

Through a new partnership between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), automotive students and current technicians now have greater access to the company’s wide fleet of vehicles without leaving the state.

The partnership expands opportunities for students, saves money for the dealerships, and meets a growing national need for technicians. Currently, Alaska’s Chrysler dealerships send technicians to the Lower 48 for required trainings. This university program will train students on FCA cars before they reach the dealerships, and allow current technicians to receive up-to-date training in Anchorage instead.

The partnership is a product of the National Coalition of Certification Centers (NC3), a nonprofit that connects the dots between colleges and companies in transportation, energy and manufacturing. Through the new agreement, FCA gives the university access to web-based training programs typically available only to full-time technicians, and allows a UAA faculty member to earn certifications as an FCA trainer.

“If you want to work for Anchorage Chrysler as a service technician, you would have to do these training modules that we’re just basically going to integrate into our program” explained Jeff Libby, director of the university’s Transportation and Power Division. That saves time for students, and allows them to graduate with industry-recognized certifications. UAA already offers a similar track with General Motors. “It definitely means that they’re going to have employment opportunities,” Libby said.

The partnership will unfold in two steps. First, UAA will incorporate the automaker’s online training into its regular automotive curriculum. NC3 predicts students who complete the FCA online training—which keeps pace with new models and technology—will be able to perform 50 percent of warranty work in a service department by the time they graduate.

Second, the university will send a faculty member, Randall Smith, to become a company-certified instructor. “He’s going to get all the Chrysler certifications and eventually he’ll transition as the technical trainer for all the dealerships up here,” Libby said. “Then they don’t have to worry about flying anybody [Outside]. We’ll do the whole thing in-house.”

“That’s a huge saving for the dealers,” said Todd Novak, a member of the department’s academic advisory board. As parts and service director at Anchorage Chrysler Jeep Dodge, Novak estimated his business currently sends technicians to Seattle, Portland and even Chicago 10 times a year. By offering training in Anchorage, dealers can save on flights, hotels and rental cars, money they would have otherwise spent in the Lower 48.

The program is so valuable that Novak coordinated with the state’s five dealerships—in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Soldotna and Wasilla—to fund the UAA program, splitting costs by their number of technicians.

The program also puts their cars in front of students early. “If they’re excited about a Dodge truck or a Dodge Challenger or Charger, they’ve got an option,” said Novak. “As a hiring dealer, these students have been exposed to our curriculum so they’re already excited about working on this type of product.”

They’ll know the latest developments in the industry, too. “Most cars [today] have 10 or more computers interacting with each other, so it’s more of an engineering networking job than it is just nuts and bolts,” Novak explained. This partnership, he added, “gives [students] an opportunity to get a dealer-quality level of current curriculum.”

The program also addresses a national need. NC3 estimated the automaker will need more than 5,000 new technicians across the country in the next two years. As more Chryslers and Jeeps hit the road, and thousands of current technicians reach retirement age, dealerships are actively looking for new employees. Any automotive degree is a plus, but manufacturer-specific training makes a student even more valuable.

“It’s all of our objective in the industry to keep a good steady flow of students going through that program,” Novak added.

Enrolled students can start optional FCA training in January, when the next semester begins. After implementing the online program for students, UAA will roll out hands-on training for current technicians next.

The new partnership benefits companies and the state economy, but on an individual level, it simply provides more opportunities for students in Alaska.

“The fact that these students will be exposed to Chrysler curriculum while they’re getting that fundamental training just gets them that much more prepared for success if they come into a Chrysler dealer,” said Novak.