Durham Tech students work hard to create opportunities to do great things, and one of the potential paths to long-term success for Durham Tech students is through the automotive systems technology program.

“People come and take this program for a lot of reasons,” said Nate Smith, the director of Durham Tech’s automotive systems technology program. “Some to save money, but most of the folks want a job. They want to have a career when they’re done.”

Photo via Durham Tech

The two-year curriculum is meant to be a pathway to prepare students for immediate employment as entry-level technicians in automotive shops across the country. Since every vehicle depends on a variety of systems working in concert, a career in automotive technology means students have the opportunity to branch out and specialize in everything from braking and drive train systems maintenance to safety and vehicle design considerations.

“We are so lucky to have this great community college system across the state, and it’s great to have the ability for us to take advantage of it,” said Marc Pons, president of Chapel Hill Tire. “[We share] tips on the industry and ideas, we are hiring some of Nate’s graduates, and we’re also sending our employees to Nate too, to get ongoing training to pursue their careers.”

Since graduates of the program complete professional license exams that correspond to their chosen path of study, Durham Tech students are able to step out of the classroom and directly into a job.

“It’s made us put the work into really thinking through what a career as an automotive technician looks like at Chapel Hill Tire,” said Pons. “You could come in as an entry-level technician and move up to what’s called ‘general service.’ We’ve thought very carefully about what sort of skills the individual needs to have, what certifications they need to have to be able to move to the next level. We’ve been able to map it out and visually show the students that you can have a long and successful career at Chapel Hill Tire by going through the automotive program.”

The automotive program at Durham Tech is certified by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation, and includes instruction both in the classroom and in Durham Tech’s automotive shop.

“There is flexibility with the curriculum and a standard set up through the state of North Carolina,” said Smith. “But just like [Marc] said, it is so mutually beneficial … Marc has a scholarship set up, and he and his crew are on our advisory committee keeping Durham Tech on the cutting edge of training.”

That mutually beneficial arrangement that helps students learn and working technicians continue their education means that working at Chapel Hill Tire — and in the automotive industry, in general — makes for a “career lattice, not a career ladder” according to Pons. With options to move to different areas, learn new skills and transition to other trades, a start in automotive technology means the beginning of a career.

Aaron Keck, Marc Pons and Nate Smith

“Private programs run as much as $35,000 for an automotive program. Durham Tech is less than $7,000. You say, ‘well, oh, if it’s cheap, it can’t be good.’ Well, actually, every time you buy a stick of bubble gum in the state of North Carolina, you’re paying for the community college automotive program,” said Smith. “It’s really that simple. We are publicly funded, so what the student pays is a very small percentage of what it actually costs.”

Students at Durham Tech range from fresh high school graduates to career-transitioning adults and beyond, but the common thread is that every student enrolled in the automotive technology program is less than 70 credit hours away from a certification that could open up doors to significant opportunities.

“If you look at the cost of college today, you can go into Durham Tech for such a value and come out and have, whether or not it’s the automotive program or some other trade, these careers that I think have been ignored over the last sort of 20 or 30 years. You can have a successful career. You can support your family, get good benefits,” said Pons. “I think a lot of attention needs to be focused on teaching parents now what great careers there are in the trades, and that you don’t come out with a ton of student debt — you come out when you can make money and you can pick on the map where you want to go work.

You can listen to the full conversation between WCHL’s Aaron Keck, Durham Tech’s Nate Smith and Marc Pons of Chapel Hill Tire below, and you can click here to learn more about how Durham Tech is doing great things.


Each month we will profile a “Do Great Things” initiative from Durham Tech with in-studio guest interviews and interactive articles on Chapelboro.com. This feature showcases some of the inspiring initiatives and programs at Durham Tech that make our community proud.