While we live in a digital age, there is no substitute for hands-on, work-based learning, which is why staff at Nashua Technology Center (NTC) are pushing to ramp up internships in its Automotive Technology program.

Citing approximately 400 job openings for automotive technicians in the state, NTC Director Amanda Bastoni said it is not enough, however, to offer just any kind of internship to students or industry partners.

“We used to send all of the students out on internship for a full semester, but that model wasn’t working,” she said. “It may have been successful at one time, but dealers started saying that kids weren’t showing up and it was really hard to manage. We knew we needed to make a change.”

This change consisted in reducing the time for internships to one month. She said students now go out Monday to Thursday and come back on Friday to discuss their respective experiences with the teacher.

“It has worked so well,” said Bastoni, who said a lot of preparation went into this programmatic change.

“Our teacher taught the students how to do job interviews, while I, as CTE Director, had all the kids do a survey,” she said.

This survey consists of questions that relate to the local dealership preferred by students as well as their objectives and commitment level to the internship itself.

“Not all students were allowed to participate,” she said.

Bastoni said she also personally interviews students now and provides feedback regarding their interview skills, all of which helped to determine where to place them.

“We made sure the kids who went into the internships really wanted to make this a career,” she added.

Students appreciate the internship model, too.

Senior Christian Belonga, who currently interns at MacMulkin Chevrolet in Nashua, said his internship has helped him realize what it would actually be like to work in the field.

“I like the placement because it gives me that real world experience and it is hands on,” he said. “I have quit my job at Market Basket and now want to work with cars in dealerships.”

Senior Jordan Smith just received a job offer from Tulley Buick GMC.

“I love working with the guys there — I feel absolutely prepared,” he said. I have been doing tires, exhaust, oil changes. Without this class, I wouldn’t know what I wanted to do after school.”

As for how it benefits industry partners, Bastoni said it not only provides dealerships with immediate help, it helps build a pipeline for future employment.

“It gives the dealers a chance to see if the kids are good fit,” she said. “It helps establish a nice relationship between dealers and students.”

According to Bastoni, the effort put into revamping their internship model within Automotive Technology reflects a statewide trend at all CTE centers.

“Internships are such a good idea,” she said. “Research tells us that kids that go into an internship are more likely to go into that industry. It is really good preparation.”

The only caveat is that students must recognize that these are places of business.

“We need to make sure when we send students out that we really support them,” she said. “I will continue to personally interview students before they go out until I really feel like a streamline process has been created.”

To learn more about NTC or Automotive Technology, visit http://nsd-schools.nashua.edu.