John Martinez, at just 20 years old, already exhibits the personable, charismatic demeanor of a seasoned professional manager.
His former teacher at Lanier Technical College’s automotive collision repair program, Damien Anderson, has seen firsthand how Martinez has developed these attributes.
“That’s what’s going to make this guy a great manager one day,” said Anderson, who is also the director of the program. “He’s ready to go into middle management already.”
Martinez graduated from the program in May, but his proficiency in the trade he’s learned was showcased this summer at the 2019 SkillsUSA Championships held in Louisville, Ky.
He won the gold medal in the collision repair technology category at a statewide competition just to get to the national event, which was reward enough.
“I didn’t think I was going to win,” Martinez said of the Georgia competition. “I was pretty surprised.”
“My expectations going into nationals was to have fun and try my best,” he added.
More than 6,500 students in career and technical education competed at the national event.
According to a press release from SkillsUSA, “Students were invited to the event to demonstrate their technical skills, workplace skills and personal skills in 103 hands-on competitions including automotive technology, robotics, drafting, criminal justice, aviation maintenance and public speaking. Industry leaders from 600 businesses, corporations, trade associations and unions planned and evaluated the contestants against their standards for entry-level workers.”
Martinez said the national competition was a lot more detailed and in depth than the state competition, with precise, step-by-step instructions to follow (as well as industry standards) when it came to gauging auto collision damage and figuring out how best to design a fix.
Plus, “You’re competing with the best,” Martinez said.
Skill Point Certificates were awarded in 72 occupational and leadership areas to students who met a threshold contest score defined by industry partners, and Martinez proudly earned his certificate in the collision repair technology challenge. He was also engaged in preparing a welding assessment, as well as an insurance adjustment assessment.
Martinez said some aspects of the challenge went beyond what he had learned, thus far, such as using a laser measuring system.
But he problem-solved on the fly, applying fundamentals and common sense to the more advanced processes posed to him during the competition, he said.
“That made me feel even better about myself,” Martinez added.
Martinez graduated from Chestatee High in Hall County in 2017, but wasn’t sure what his next step would be.
His parents, however, migrant field workers from Mexico who became U.S. citizens in the 1980s under a program administered by the Ronald Reagan administration, pushed him to attend college.
Like many immigrants, Martinez’s parents had sacrificed so he and his siblings (an older sister who is studying to become a teacher and a younger sister who is studying political science) could live the American Dream.
“I always knew I loved just messing around with cars,” Martinez said.
So, he found the collision repair program at Lanier Tech and decided to give it a try.
The program typically takes a year and a half to complete, or three semesters, Anderson said, depending on the student and any core coursework that may also need to be completed.
Some of the graduates go to work at a car mechanic’s shop, something Martinez has spent time doing. But most find jobs in the auto insurance business providing estimates on collision repairs.
“Once I started really getting into it, I was like, ‘I actually like this,’” Martinez said.