Portsmouth students win NH automotive technology

Star students representing the auto technology programs from 10 high schools battled Saturday to diagnose and fix problem cars in the 2019 High School Automotive Technology Contest held at Lakes Region Community College.

Portsmouth High School won the event and will now advance to the national finals and compete on the floor of the New York City Auto Show in April. Mascenic High School in New Ipswich was second, and Manchester School of Technology was third.

The first-place winners each received a $2,000 scholarship to study automotive technology at the Community College System of New Hampshire and their teacher was awarded a $1,500 gift card from Megatech to buy equipment for their school. Second place finishers received $1,500 scholarships and a $1,000 Megatech gift card and the third-place winners were awarded $1,000 scholarships.

“It’s harder to find young talent these days and there are great paying auto tech careers with average wages of nearly $60,000,” said Peter McNamara, president of the N.H. Automobile Dealers Association. Last year the association awarded $60,000 in scholarships to qualifying N.H. students to study automotive technology at the state’s four community colleges.

“The community college price is fantastic and these kids can work while going to school and have a job waiting for them when they graduate with an associate’s degree,” said Vincent Fittante, the auto tech instruction at Mascenic High School.

“I have former students who are making well over $100,000 in their 20s,” he said.

Contestants were tasked with diagnosing and fixing “bugged” cars at multiple stations, and also needed to showcase their skills in other areas including performing a multi-point inspection, basic engine mechanical measurement and tire balancing, among other skills. Students had four hours to complete their work and were scored by a panel of judges along the way.

Twenty years ago, a wrench was the most important tool used to repair a car, today it’s a laptop computer, said Jessica Dade, the Industry-Education Alliance Manager and Workforce Recruiter for the N.H. Automotive Education Foundation.

“Auto tech is high tech with high wages. The schools provide a great basis for this career and the internships with local businesses complete the work-based learning cycle,” she said.

Initially, 300 students studying automotive technology at 19 schools took the 100 question written test. The top scoring 20 students from 10 schools were invited to compete in Saturday’s state championships.

Mascenic High School placed first in the written test; Portsmouth High School was second and Concord was third.

In the applied portion of the test during which students were tasked with identifying and repairing “bugs” in 10 identical cars, Portsmouth High School was declared the winner, with Manchester School of Technology placing second, and Dover High School third.

“Everybody is investing in this industry because there are good jobs out there,” said Joe Liebke, automotive technology instructor at Salem High School. In response to high industry demand for skilled automotive technicians, Liebke said, Salem High School just completed a brand-new shop for its students.

Adam Memmolo recounted that he graduated from Pembroke Academy and went on to earn an associate degree in automotive technology at Concord Regional Technology Center before joining the Grappone Automotive Group in Bow, where he has been the service manager for the past 15 years.

“These kids might not know that this career path is ahead of them and that they can make a good living and provide for their family,” he said.

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