Youth Engagement: Charting a Roadmap for Success
The Student Program provides unique learning experiences—networking with industry leaders, access to the Show and exhibitors, career services and educational seminars—that highlight career opportunities in the automotive aftermarket and the performance racing industries.
The specialty automotive products industry represents a wellspring of opportunity for American workers, employing many thousands of engineers and designers; manufacturing workers; distribution, marketing and sales personnel; as well as skilled technicians and installers. But spend any time among a group of seasoned industry colleagues, and the conversation inevitably turns to a recurring theme: Young people are the future of the industry, but how do we cultivate the next generation and inspire youngsters to engage in and perpetuate the industry?
That concept is at the heart of SEMA’s multifaceted youth engagement initiatives aimed at helping students from middle school, high school and college to map career paths to success in the aftermarket industry.
“SEMA is committed to developing a future workforce and inspiring youth to participate in the automotive customization lifestyle,” said Zane Clark, SEMA’s senior director of education. “This will be best realized by creating a pathway that fosters enthusiasm and provides resources from early adolescence through adulthood. Ultimately, it’s about creating a spark at an early age and then providing the fuel to keep it burning.”
Igniting the Spark
The youth initiatives championed by the SEMA Board of Directors include a portfolio of programs, both newly implemented and longstanding. While college- and graduate-degree students have had access to tuition assistance through the SEMA Memorial Scholarship Fund, SEMA’s outreach has been broadened more recently to also embrace middle-and high-school students in the belief that reaching youngsters at an earlier age—and introducing them to all facets of the industry—will help to ignite that spark.
To that end, SEMA launched a pilot program earlier this year in partnership with Championship Auto Shows, which produces World of Wheels, and Ten80, an organization dedicated to inspiring youngsters to engage in innovative thinking. The pilot, known as SEMA STEM Experience, is geared to children in the sixth through eighth grades and is focused on engaging middle-school children through firsthand and hands-on educational programs at car shows and other industry events.
Through a series of field trips to World of Wheels events held in six Midwest cities, local students were able to experience car culture up close in its coolest forms and participate in several interactive activities, including a pit-crew experience, building 3D origami cars as visual prototypes, and measuring torque on a vehicle. To further encourage the students to think about channeling their STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills into future automotive careers, they also participated in custom-tailored Ten80 seminars centered on the core STEM subjects.
To date, more than 1,200 students, 150 instructors and 22 volunteers—including SEMA Board and council select-committee members, as well as SEMA staff—have been engaged in the program. According to Clark, the go-forward plan is to expand the program from six to 10 events next year.
Nurturing the Next Generation
The second leg of the youth outreach is a pilot project known as SEMA Student Builds. Targeted to high-school students, its purpose is to engage teenagers in high-quality automotive projects to strengthen their skills and interests in the industry and careers related to the automotive specialty-equipment aftermarket.
To kick off the program, SEMA teamed late last year with Santa Fe Early College Opportunities Applied Science Magnet School in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where students enrolled in the school’s auto-shop program were provided with a ’15 4WD Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and charged with turning the vehicle into a fully modified show-stopper.
More than 70 students participated in the project, which was supported by 24 companies that supplied products. It was a golden opportunity for students to put their science, engineering and math skills to the test and nurture their enthusiasm for customization and pursuit of automotive career paths—and to see firsthand just how successful their efforts were when the vehicle was put up for auction.
The May auction raised $53,500, with all proceeds to be used for future projects and a “How-To Resource Guide” created for future projects. Based on the success of the pilot, the program will be expanded to include five high schools.
Experiencing the Ultimate Field Trip
Most school children are excited by the prospect of a field trip—a chance to escape the classroom and experience something different. For high-school and college students who get to participate in the Student Program at the SEMA Show and the PRI Show, the term “field trip” takes on a whole new meaning.
Designed for students and educators, the Student Program provides unique learning experiences—networking with industry leaders, access to the Show and exhibitors, career services and educational seminars—that highlight career opportunities in the automotive aftermarket and the performance racing industries. Now in its 15th year, the Student Program last year attracted more than 2,300 students from more than 200 participating schools.
Extending a Hand
The purpose of the SEMA Memorial Scholarship Fund, a 501(c)(3), is to activate the next-generation automotive workforce by providing financial support and career resources to students pursuing automotive careers at various high schools, universities, colleges, and/or vocational schools in the United States.
To be eligible for a scholarship, each students is required to fill out an application and meet specific criteria. A student must be a U.S. citizen, an incoming freshman or continued enrollee in one of the above-mentioned educational institutions, have a minimum 2.5 grade-point average (GPA), be in pursuit of a degree or certification that leads to an automotive career, and show passion for the industry. In 2017, 103 applicants received scholarships, and scholarship awards totaled $300,000.
Another aspect of extending a helping hand is loan forgiveness. Unlike the scholarship program, which provides tuition assistance to current students, the purpose of SEMA’s loan-forgiveness program is to invest in automotive professionals by providing financial resources to pay down outstanding college debt—provided that the applicant is currently employed by a SEMA-member company and meets the eligibility requirements.
Eligibility criteria include employment with a SEMA-member company, a degree or certificate from a college, university or career tech school in the United States, a minimum 2.5 GPA upon graduation, and a demonstrated passion for the industry. Over the past year, loan forgiveness awards totaled $26,000.
Creating a Career Conduit
A final component of the youth-engagement initiatives is the creation of a SEMA Career Center & Job Board. Its purpose is to build a talent pipeline that fosters the next-generation workforce and addresses the industry’s employment challenges. This vision includes serving as an employment liaison and conduit for connecting employers and jobseekers.
Today’s students are tomorrow’s work force. And while no one can predict how many students touched by SEMA’s outreach efforts will become future industry jobseekers, the seeds have been planted and the prospects are encouraging. Given the positive outcomes resulting from the two pilot projects and the ongoing success of the more established youth-oriented programs, SEMA’s initiatives are, as Clark noted, providing the fuel to inspire and engage the next generation.