Tess Dubois-Carey, president of the Sacramento campus of Universal Technical Institute, may not be able to assemble a car transmission from a pile of parts, but she has brought a new vibe to the automotive technician-training school since taking the top post in September.
Dubois-Carey, 46, says her 20 years in the hotel/hospitality industry and seven more working in UTI-Sacramento administrative positions gave her a unique perspective.
“I’m not an automotive expert, but I am passionate about our instructors and our students … giving students the opportunity to seek the career that they aspire to in the industry,” she said during a recent tour of the sprawling, 250,000-square-foot campus on Duckhorn Drive.
Dubois-Carey is a rarity in the male-dominated world of automotive engineering and collision repair. She’s the first female to hold the top post at the local UTI campus, which opened in 2005.
She oversees 110 employees, about half of them involved in instruction.
Roger Speer, the former UTI-Sacramento president who moved on to become UTI regional vice president of operations, said Dubois-Carey “consistently demonstrates our UTI values in supporting a strong and caring work environment with a powerful focus on outcomes that benefit our students.”
UTI-Sacramento is one of about a dozen U.S. technical education campuses overseen by Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Universal Technical Institute Inc. Publicly traded UTI has struggled over the past year with some of the same problems that have challenged other for-profit colleges, including declining enrollments and concerns over student financing.
Dubois-Carey said UTI had a modest enrollment gain in 2013, when the West Sacramento campus of technical training school WyoTech closed. She said demand for automotive technicians remains extremely high in California, home to the most motor vehicles and auto shops in the nation.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has forecast an increase of more than 30,000 new jobs annually in the U.S. collision, automotive, motorcycle and marine industries through 2018, with nearly 1.3 million employed by that time.
“There are also more older cars than ever on the road … which means more people are trying to maintain their cars,” she said.
That is backed by the Sacramento-based California New Car Dealers Association, which reported more than 1.71 million in-state registrations of vehicles 10 years old or older in 2015; that represented nearly half the total of 3.55 million used-vehicle registrations across all vehicle-age groups.
Dubois-Carey added that UTI-Sacramento continues to have classroom-instruction relationships with major manufacturers that include Toyota and Ford, and the local campus also has provided UTI-trained auto technician talent to Sacramento-area auto-selling firms that include The Niello Co., the Future Automotive Group and the Maita Automotive Group.
UTI graduates can expect to land jobs with annual wages ranging from $25,000 to $40,000, depending on their training. UTI tuition can run more than $20,000 a year, but financial aid opportunities are available from numerous sources, including the auto industry.
UTI-Sacramento’s nearly 20 programs are geared primarily to automotive, diesel and industrial, and collision repair and refinish. Graduates typically move on to the auto industry, although others have landed with mining, construction and commercial trucking firms. Education programs run generally from about 45 to nearly 100 weeks, with tuition for a 52-week course running about $28,000. Some specialized courses are taught in just a handful of weeks.
Given the technical curriculum and time constraints, student attendance is “extremely important” and is monitored closely, Dubois-Carey said.
Dubois-Carey’s hotel industry background is evident as she walks the bustling hallways and visits classrooms.
She easily wades into a circle of young men huddled around a chunk of automotive hardware in a UTI lab.
At Dubois-Carey’s insistence, every UTI-Sacramento classroom/lab has to be spotlessly clean and look perfectly organized – no easy task when daily instruction typically involves gallons of oil and grease. She also stresses a “community” approach and teamwork to help drive students into the professional world.
“We’re student-focused, and when we talk about a career and leadership, this is where it starts,” she said.
Dubois-Carey’s sense of a UTI community extends to her office, where she insisted on a window on her formerly standard door.
She’s also working on a program to make UTI’s large lab/garages look less like warehouses and more like what one finds at a motor vehicle dealership. After all, the goal of most UTI graduates is to land an entry-level technician position with a dealership, manufacturer or auto-related retail operation.
Dubois-Carey said her years in UTI student services and admissions departments emphasized that some students need more than classroom instruction to pursue an auto-tech career.
To that end, UTI-Sacramento offers various services to assist students and prepare them for the working world, including job interview/résumé instruction, periodic help obtaining groceries and gasoline, providing professional attire for job interviews (Dubois-Carey said she donated some of her late husband’s neckties to that endeavor) and quick access to who’s hiring.
A perpetually updated campus touchscreen enables UTI-Sacramento students to zero in on specific auto technician jobs being posted by companies throughout the United States.
“We want to do everything we can to help them reach their goals, even if they want to work in a specific place,” Dubois-Carey said.
Gary Dumpson, a 41-year-old student-tutor who served 21 years in the U.S. Army, said the local campus “has a very professional atmosphere. … For me, it’s important to stress timeliness, student attendance and attention to detail.
“I was a parachute rigger (in the U.S. Army), so I know all about attention to detail.”
Dubois-Carey was Massachusetts-born and -raised but says she has warmed to the Sacramento area. She said her UTI job has home-life benefits that she did not always have living on the other side of the clock in the hotel industry.
“I remember my first day here, I was driving home and thinking, ‘It’s still daylight out. People are actually going home to have dinner with their families,’” she said. “I said right then that I want to retire here.”