By Mike Heine/The Week
(Published March. 8, 2007, 9:38 a.m.)
IIn a small engine repair class, students are supposed to get their hands a little greasy. Matt Janisin, the automotive and outdoor power equipment teacher at Elkhorn Area High School, hopes that grease will help his students slide into the "real world" a little easier after graduation.
Janisin has geared his outdoor power equipment classes like a business. Students sign time cards at the start and end of class, fill out parts and service invoices for work they do on engines and deal with the "customers" (teachers and parents) who have their lawn mowers, weed whackers, chain saws and other gas-driven machines fixed by the students.
The style of the classes prepares students if they want to one day own or work at a repair shop, or from the consumer angle so they understand what goes on at a repair shop, Janisin said.
"I like the straight-forward approach," said sophomore Joey Twing. "You learn it and you can use it right away when you go into the shop. The timecards and stuff are all things you'll have to do anyway when you go into a business. Better to learn it now than later."
Janisin, a teacher for four years including two at Elkhorn, said he picked up the idea while working at an engine repair shop when he was attending UW-Stout. "We're trying to provide students with not just a hobby, but the skills they will and can use from outside of here," Janisin said. "Not everyone is going to be a (small engine) technician. But I teach it like you are."
EAHS offers three small engine classes-power technology, outdoor power equipment repair and advanced OPE repair-to go along with the automotive repair classes and apprenticeship programs.The repair classes are the ones that run the shop like it's a business, Janisin said.
"It's almost like they're employed by me," Janisin said. "They fill out repair orders, do diagnostics, estimates, give out repair orders for pieces of equipment. (It's) almost like working at a shop from nine to five."
Like Twing said, students have attached themselves to the "real world" learning."They enjoy it pretty well," Janisin said. "It was a change for them at first, but now they're really coming around to it and they seem to enjoy it."
Small engine repair is in constant need of technicians, Janisin said. The teaching approach he uses should give students a leg up when employers are looking over resumes, especially now with a national certification.
The industry has taken notice of Janisin's classes and teaching approach.The Engine and Equipment Training Council certified the school's OPE classes last month, giving students the opportunity to take a test and become a certified EETC repair technician. The accreditation is similar to the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification.
The honor makes Elkhorn just the third high school in the state to bestow the designation. Three technical colleges are also EETC certified."If you talk to a lot of shops, they'll get a lot of resumes, but not a lot of people they want to hire," Janisin said. "(Employers) will often give a lot of on-the-job training to people who will leave in a year or two.
"If you go through this program, you can take the EETC certification test. If you pass it, it helps prove that you have the fundamentals and knowledge to do well in this type of industry."Certified schools also have a leg up with the industry, which often supports such programs with training materials, such as engines and service manuals, said Jim Roche, EETC executive director.
The test is not required for any student, but will be an option to those seriously thinking about a career in small engine mechanics, Janisin said."It will give them a leg up on someone who says they fix stuff with my dad and grandpa on the farm on my own time," Janisin said. "It's a little more proof."
"For a student to take it while in high school, their chance of getting a step up to getting a good job or a good pay rate is increased greatly," Roche said. "Dealers are looking for trained people to come in and work on a product. They don't want a guy to get in there and not have the knowledge."