CMC’s automotive program revs up in Rifle

Rifle senior Alex Murchison puts together a car tire during a CMC automotive session on Thursday.
Taylor Cramer/Post Independent

Responding to a pressing need for skilled automotive technicians, Colorado Mountain College Rifle has taken the reins of the once dwindling Rifle High School automotive program. 

Born from industry needs and burgeoning student interest, this expansion has seen the program grow from a mere eight students in fall 2021 to 24 this year, with 16 enrolled from Rifle  and eight enrolled in this year’s expansion to Grand Valley High School.

CMC’s robust support for the program goes beyond mere words. The college has harnessed federal grant funding, local donations and benefactor contributions to ensure students have access to state-of-the-art automotive tools.

Robert Sjogren, a former student of the program and now a full-time faculty member at CMC, serves as a touching bridge between the program’s storied past and its promising future. Sjogren’s ties to the community run deep, with a career spanning two decades in the Garfield Re-2 transportation department and roles as a wrestling and track coach at Rifle.

“The auto program was never lost, but anyone who was paying attention could definitely see it dwindling,” Sjogren said. “I think CMC stepping in really saved this program and will give kids a great opportunity to prepare themselves in the automotive industry.”

“Mechanics are getting harder and harder to find,” Sjogren added. “Long story short, I just really didn’t want to see the program fail or go away.”

For Sjogren, teaching at the same location where he honed his skills feels surreal.

“It’s cool to see myself teaching out of the same shop that I grew up learning in,” he said, noting the warehouse’s unchanged location through the years.

While high school students are the current focus, Sjogren envisions college students joining the ranks in the future. And it’s not just about learning; the program bestows students with a certification from CMC upon completion. In his vision, Sjogren is working to ensure that students can soon earn their Automotive Service Excellence certificate through the program.

“Being in the industry for as long as I have and seeing the need for people in this industry, especially in the valley, this is a great program to make available to students that are interested,” Sjogren expressed. “I have a great advisory council that is helping me guide this program. Shop owners, managers, they all are looking for good students who can help their businesses.”

One such eager learner is Rifle High senior Alex Murchison. Although only in his first year at the college level, Murchison has already recognized the program’s advantages over his high school intro class.

“This is a great experience,” Murchison said. “I began this class to learn how to fix my own things and not have to take anything to a mechanic, but it really has been something that I have found an interest in.”

“For people actually wanting to go into the mechanic industry, there couldn’t be a better start than here,” Murchison emphasized.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment rates for automotive service technicians and mechanics will grow by 2% from 2022-32, in line with the average growth for all occupations. With an annual average of about 67,700 job openings in the field over the next decade, the industry’s demand is clear.

Graduates from Sjogren’s past classes now fill roles at Columbine Ford, Bighorn Toyota, Waste Management and GW Ford. As the number of graduates multiplies, more local industries are set to benefit.

Behind the scenes, Sjogren, along with the dedicated Rifle skilled trades team, has a motto that underlines its mission: “Job Ready, Day One.”

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