Technical Education Deserves More Respect

by Bob Magee

After reading the Mechanical Chairman’s Message in the January 2024 edition of New Jersey Automotive (available online at, there are a few things I’d like to say. 

Throughout all the years I was on my school’s advisory board for AASP/NJ, the number one complaint received was “we need new people in our profession.” After over 18-plus years in my small successful shop, I decided to go into the teaching field. At 53 years old, it was difficult to go to William Paterson for 12 subjects to get my teaching degree certificate. For me, spending 30 hours a week in William Paterson, plus running my shop, was a stretch. 

When I finally passed and obtained my teaching certificate, I entered Bergen County Technical High School as an auto body, collision and refinishing instructor with 25 students in my class who came from guarded schools. They wanted me to teach out of an outdated textbook, and I refused. I contacted the publishing company and told them their textbook was out of date and asked if they had an updated edition. They said “NO, but if you have so much knowledge on this subject, would you like to edit, review and correct one of the chapters in the text for $100?” Although I am not a scholar, I accepted their offer. 

After many hours – worth way more than the $100 they were paying me – I finished the chapter. A few days later, the president of the publishing company called to tell me they had never seen so much input and correction of a chapter and asked me if I wanted to be the main editor and reviewer of the remaining 100-plus chapters. Again, I accepted. After I completed the entire textbook, I sent it to the company. My name was listed in the book as the main editor and reviewer, and I was paid $1,000, which was not close to the hours of my own time I put into the book. Still, when they asked me to review and edit three more textbooks and asked me if I wanted to publish a book with my name on the cover; I said yes. 

During my first two years teaching auto body, collision and refinishing, I entered one of my students in SkillsUSA to compete with 30 other schools in New Jersey, and he took first place, the gold medal. After the third year, they took my auto body program away because they wanted me to teach mechanical. They said mechanical was more difficult than auto body to get more kids in the program. I told them that every great mechanic was not necessarily a good body man, but every great body man was usually a great mechanic. After nine years teaching my full airbrush elective class with mostly art students, they said they were taking my airbrush elective class away because I was not a certified art teacher. I told them I have been doing airbrush murals and being paid for more years than the two art teachers have been teaching and the kids loved the class. 

In the 21 years I have been teaching, they removed 18 technical courses in that school because they said every student was going to college and could make more money in those careers than in the technical areas. I explained that not every student who attends college completes the four-year program; many leave after two years and try to get a job in industry. There are academic teachers and administrators running a technical school, yet they have no idea how to run a successful business. They continue to take away funding for technical programs and reduce the number of students who are interested in those programs by pushing them into college prep or advanced AP courses that look good on their college resume. 

I always told my students to get a job in someone’s hobby. People will pay more for their hobbies than their bills. The counselors never tell the students to investigate the course they take for four years to see how that field is. Are there jobs available in their area? How much competition is in that field? Many kids spend four years in college and are unable to find a job in the field they studied, so they then try to get a job anywhere they can. It’s a shame many high schools are eliminating technical programs because they only want college graduates. It frustrated me that they thought of me as a blue-collar worker based on my trade because they have no idea of how successful one can be in our field. 

To me, an experienced auto body professional is an artist who can take a wrecked vehicle and make it better than the factory. The politicians should put more emphasis on technical trades because everyone is not meant to go to college. I have had many successful students enter our industry and do great, and I keep in touch with them to see how they are doing. That is as good of a feeling as finishing a collision job and having the customer astonished on how great it was restored.

Former AASP/NJ member Bob Magee is a retired automotive instructor and body shop owner.

Want more? Check out the June 2024 issue of New Jersey Automotive!