Vinnie LaVerdi has been the director of Erie Community College’s Automotive Technology Program for six months, and an instructor for six years. In that time, he has helped hundreds of his students score in demand jobs.
“I’m not good at a lot of things, but I think I have a pretty good handle on bridging the gap between training and industry,” he said. In fact, LaVerdi estimates that 75 percent of the technicians in some area dealers are graduates of his program.
The community college offers three different pathways to a career in the automotive industry: the two-year Associate in Applied Sciences (AAS) degree, the two-year Associate and Occupational Studies degree (AOS), and the 15-week Automotive Maintenance Program (AMP).
The AOS program has become increasingly popular in recent years because it is one of the fastest pathways from learning to earning. “When students come into the program, they’re basically employed already,” LaVerdi said. The community college’s innovative two-year program combines classroom learning with paid hands-on training at dealerships.
To ensure gainful employment, LaVerdi and others in his department, have forged relationships with some of the largest car companies in Erie County and filled their ranks with long-term employees by making thoughtful placement decisions, accompanied by lots of site visits and support by faculty and industry associates. Students also work in small cohorts of 12–15 students, which allows for a lot of one-on-one time with the instructors. “The nice thing about this model is you get to know each student and you have a lot of time to understand their capabilities and help them any way you can,” said LaVerdi.
Like many of his students, LaVerdi didn’t enjoy more traditional learning. “I’m a visual learner, and I liked hands-on learning the best,” he said. In high school, he wanted to understand the practical application of his lessons, something he found in a BOCES-like auto program that he enrolled in during 11th and 12th grade.
Upon graduation from high school, he attended Alfred State College, and earned his AOS. He immediately took a job at a GM dealership, but naturally gravitated toward mentoring new hires. “My wife’s a first-grade teacher, and she was always telling me that I should become a teacher, too,” he said. He was invited to return to his alma mater as an instructor in 2013, and in 2017, he was hired at ECC where he was named department chair in January 2023.
He’s proud of the accomplishments of his fellow instructors, and their record. When students come in with limited knowledge of vehicle maintenance, “and then they have the expertise to drop a power train out of a vehicle and perform high level diagnostics — that’s pretty rewarding,” he said. "We have an awesome team of dedicated faculty, staff and industry partners that make this all possible."