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Region Pulls Together for Auto Tech

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Even in high school, Kolton Swenink knew he was a “hands on” person so he was a “regular” in career and technical education (CTE) classes. “I took every tech class I could: metals, woods, and auto,” says Kolton. And he enjoyed them. But says Kolton, “I always knew I wanted to go for auto.” His future might have hit a snag right there since Boscobel, like many small rural districts in Southwest Wisconsin, does not have an auto technology program. But the region has developed a solution that works for them and students like Kolton.

The CESA 3 Auto Tech Academy is a partnership brought together to address the need for auto technicians in the region. The Academy includes representatives from the Wisconsin Auto and Truck Dealers Association, area dealerships, the region’s technical school, CESA 3, and local districts, all of whom worked to develop a way for kids to build auto tech skills at the service dealerships nearest their homes.

Kolton poses with award
From left: Mark Fillback, owner, Fillback Family of Dealerships; Kolton Swenink; and Kara Nania, vice-president, Wisconsin Auto and Truck Dealers Association Foundation

With this as an option, Kolton was able to enroll in the CESA 3 Auto Tech Academy at the Fillback Dealership in his hometown. He and his mom worked with his school counselor at Boscobel High School, Rhonda Scallon, to get into the Youth Apprenticeship program his junior year. He took a dual enrollment introductory auto class through Southwest Wisconsin Technical College (SWTC) while learning skills in a live working laboratory at the dealership. As a result, Kolton earned three college credits through SWTC and high school credit at the same time. Kolton’s instructor, a Fillback ASE-certified master technician, was also certified to teach in the technical college system.

Mark Fillback, the owner, was so impressed by Kolton’s performance in the classroom that he hired him to work part-time at his dealership. “This has always been my dream—to have this job,” says Kolton.

Kolton with DWD secretary
From left: Mark Fillback; Shea Mueller, Fillback instructor; Kolton Swenink; and DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman

Because of his efforts, Kolton was recognized at the state level as a recipient of the Wisconsin Auto and Truck Dealers Association Scholarship, winning a $3,000 scholarship and a toolkit from Snap-On tools valued at over $4,075. He was also visited by Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Secretary Caleb Frostman to learn more about his experience.

Now a graduate of Boscobel High School, today Kolton attends SWTC’s auto tech program and continues to work part-time for Fillback. “I want to fill in the missing holes in my knowledge,” he says of his decision to go on to SWTC.

Kolton’s success rests on his decision to take advantage of the tools and opportunities presented to him. He stays focused on his dream: full-time employment with Fillback after graduation from SWTC. “I feel good, but I feel there’s always more I can learn.”

—Chuck Keller, ACP and Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator, CESA 3