Together, We Can Do More
At a recent SEMA Town Hall meeting held at the K&N facility in Riverside, California, an attendee asked what SEMA is doing to help build the next generation of enthusiasts and to get young people interested in automotive careers. It’s a question that takes time to answer, because SEMA has long been working on a variety of programs and initiatives to enhance youth engagement and highlight career paths open to students.
Some of our efforts involve collaborating with initiatives conceived and operated by outside organizations. Hot Rodders of Tomorrow (HROT) is a good example. HROT recently announced an expansion to include younger contestants working with Briggs & Stratton engines. Through hosting HROT teams at the SEMA and PRI Trade Shows, SEMA is part of an extensive HROT industry support network that has helped thousands of students develop an interest in racing and performance lifestyles.
The SEMA online Career Center is another example of the association finding common ground with existing, successful enterprises as a way to reach a goal. Building on the success of those kinds of mutual-interest collaborations, other new youth-engagement programs have recently come to fruition.
One new pilot program, based on a partnership with Championship Auto Shows (CAS), was initiated in January of this year and is showing great promise. The idea is to engage middle-school students in an experiential, hands-on learning program that brings them together with cool cars and trucks displayed at the CAS events. The program also exposes students to the possibilities of behind-the-scenes careers in automotive design and engineering. A key element is tapping into the science, technology, engineering and math curriculum—also known as STEM—that was custom-developed for the program by Ten80, an educational organization specializing in experiential learning. One of the attractive elements of the project is that it scales up well, with the potential of reaching hundreds of students at every event.
Another SEMA-backed pilot project involves collaboration with the Santa Fe Early College Opportunities (Santa Fe ECO) Applied Science Magnet School, a magnet high school that provides applied sciences and tech training along with traditional academic classes.
In the fall of 2017, SEMA provided a ’15 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited to ECO’s Auto Tech School. By early March, the students had created a comprehensive project-vehicle plan and are now on track to build a custom Jeep that can be sold by the end of the school year in May. The program has elicited considerable industry support (18 companies contributed parts), and SEMA volunteer leaders have taken time to work with the students and help guide the project. Proceeds from the sale will be used to fund the next vehicle build at the school, so that the program can become self-perpetuating. If successful, this pilot initiative can be duplicated and spread to auto tech programs around the country, introducing young people to cool cars and trucks, specialty automotive equipment and potential careers in our segment of the industry.
Fortunately, SEMA is not the only organization working to inspire youth to participate in automotive lifestyles. Some of the efforts may succeed on their own; others just need a little boost. Identifying and partnering with organizations with common goals is one way SEMA can focus tailwind resources to help more young people discover all of the possibilities our industry has to offer.