Opinion Piece: Get an Education (Street Commodores Editorial Column)

09 Jul

This is the 22nd in a regular series of editorial pieces we’ll be posting here on the blog, originally written by Hosking Industries’ Ben Hosking for Street Commodores magazine and other magazines he’s completed opinion pieces for. This column appeared in issue 190 of Street Commodores:

Get an Education (Written 17.08.11)

Want to dig deep into building a custom car but lack the skills? Go back to school.

As I was growing up I discovered the world of custom cars like most kids probably did. They had a relative who was into building or at least driving modified cars, or perhaps the mere sight and sound of a cool car like Knight Rider’s KITT was enough to get your pre-pubescent adrenaline gland pumping. Either way, for most of us cars ended up becoming something far greater than mere transport.

I think I glued together my first model car at around the age of seven or eight. That taught me quite a bit about the general anatomy of the motor car and how each major part related to the next. I also had my uncle’s impressive collection of mid-1960s to early ‘70s hot rod magazines to pore over whenever I visited (I’ve now got that wonderful collection with me here at home).

I really got most of my automotive education from books, magazines and model cars – at least up until I bought my first car and started working on that. For many of you at home, my story probably sounds pretty familiar: soaking up information and completing DIY projects at home that you picked up in car mags like Street Commodores.

Thanks to a couple of decades of parents discouraging their kids to take up poorly paid trades like mechanics (a shrewd vocational decision on behalf of their kids, perhaps. But leaving the industry devoid of up and coming specialists) today’s guys and girls are increasingly inept when it comes to grabbing the tools and knowing how to use them. According to one recent study, even simple DIY projects were outside the realms of some dudes.

So if you’ve found yourself in a job or trade that isn’t even remotely close to engine repair, fabrication, panel beating or some other motoring related role and you’re keen on getting your hands dirty, what do you do? Some people are lucky and have parents or siblings with skills that they can learn from. Other people simply buy the necessary tools and jump in head first. The third group will usually end up paying other skilled workshops to do everything, too afraid of breaking something. Certainly, there’s plenty that can go wrong.

It is possible to undertake proper education in various fields relating to car maintenance and modification without having to quit your job and start an apprenticeship as a mechanic. TAFE colleges all over Australia offer a range of courses, as do community colleges and even some other small private firms.

Each TAFE college specialises in certain areas and not all will offer mechanically-minded courses (same as universities). Likewise, some courses don’t end up running every semester if they can’t get enough numbers to make it worthwhile. However, you can undertake courses in welding and fabrication without having to be employed as an apprentice.

Australia boasts scores of community colleges and other private training organisations that offer myriad different courses every term, their range depending upon the trainers they can get and the learner numbers they can attract. You’ll often receive their course guide in the mail box, so next time you get one, be sure to check it out for courses in areas like welding, small engine repair (which can give you the fundamentals or at least the confidence to pull your car’s engine down), car maintenance and other specialist fields.

TAFE courses are often accredited, meaning successful completion would give you some level of qualification that is then accepted nationwide by other educational facilities and employers. Some short courses they offer from time to time are only certain modules or facets of larger courses and you’d receive a Statement of Attainment upon completion. But really, you’d just be there to learn, right? Who cares about the piece of paper at the end!

Some TAFE colleges are willing to put on specific training if the numbers make it viable. So, if you’re keen to get in and learn and your local TAFE specialises in mechanic-relevant trades, approach them about your desired skill area and see what it would take for them to put on a course. You might just find your favourite car forum has enough local members wanting to do the same course.

It’s the same with community colleges. In fact, they’re even more eager to oblige because more students means more income. As long as they can find a trainer and the student numbers are there, they’ll put the course on. Just give your local college a call and start making enquiries.

Never let a lack of skills get in the way of your creativity and motivation. Just take the necessary steps to get to where you want to be. If learning on your own from books and DVDs or making use of Uncle Frank’s well-equipped garage is out of the question, then get an education!

Be cool to one another.

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