Medium/Heavy Truck Interns working at Southwest Transit

Hennepin Technical College graduates know a lot about keeping things moving. Just ask the folks at Southwest Transit, where most of the technicians are graduates of HTC’s medium/heavy truck program. Some are recent graduates who arrived at Southwest Transit via HTC’s internship program, while others are graduates who count their experience in decades.  Either way, they strive to keep Southwest Transit moving ahead.

“It’s all about the customer,” says Southwest Transit Maintenance and Facilities Director Steve LaFrance in describing the technicians’ philosophy of serving passengers, many of whom count on the system’s express routes to downtown Minneapolis.  LaFrance attended HTC in 1982 to become certified in diesel repair, and then spent 25 years in the trucking industry prior to joining Southwest Transit in 2006. With transit stations in Chanhassen, Chaska and Eden Prairie, Southwest Transit has 61 buses providing service Monday through Friday.

Medium/Heavy Truck Interns working at Southwest Transit

“Breakdowns are very rare,” says LaFrance. “Preventive maintenance is key to that.” He knows that having a capable crew makes the difference. And that’s why he’s glad to have HTC graduates who have benefitted from the college’s unique approach to training. Since 1998, the college has offered a two-year, 24-month program in which students must complete 94 credits to earn an A.A.S. degree, with 33 of the credits earned through paid internships with employers such as Southwest Transit.

“The college provides a good foundation so you learn about the equipment and what’s expected on the job,” says Edwin Nama in explaining what students find at HTC. He began his career at Southwest Transit in 2006, and later enrolled at HTC, graduating in 2011. For him, the hands-on training made the difference.

“I went to school, and then to work,” says Nama, adding that flexibility both at work and at the college made it possible for him to succeed.  His best advice to prospective students:  “If you want to learn, open your mind. Keep learning every day so you can keep up with new technology.”

Tony Kuykendall, a 1995 graduate, is a technician who originally wanted to work on trains. He chose HTC because the Brooklyn Park campus was close to his home in Brooklyn Center. However, after he graduated from HTC and was offered a railroad position, he and his wife were expecting their first child. Since the job required travel, he decided the timing wasn’t right.  Instead, he put his skills to work at a large Twin Cities school bus company for 11 years, and then ran a repair shop for a couple of years. When he heard that Southwest Transit was looking for a technician, he made the move.

“I like the variety here, because you work on different things every day,” says Kuykendall. “I couldn’t work a tedious desk job or a factory job.”   

Medium/Heavy Truck Interns working at Southwest Transit

More than engines

Ask Southwest Transit Vehicle Maintenance Manager Jon Donovan about the biggest changes he has seen since graduating from HTC in 1978, and his response is immediate: Changes in technology. He joined Southwest Transit in 2004, after many years in the trucking industry.

As Donovan points out, working on buses involves much more than knowing about engines. Technicians work on many components, including fare boxes, destination signs, wheelchair lifts, camera systems, electronic stabilizers, and the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

“Passengers can have a long commute,” Donovan acknowledges. “You want people to be comfortable.” It’s a responsibility the technicians take seriously. Donovan has found that his HTC training provided a strong base for building a career. After graduating, he was able to become a journeyman technician in just two years on the job.

A good place to start

“There are lots of systems to work on,” says Kyle Jackels, a 2008 graduate who believes his HTC training prepared him for the variety of responsibilities in the transit industry. He says what he likes best about his job is the atmosphere at Southwest Transit, and the opportunities to move ahead.  He recently passed an ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certification test that helped him qualify to advance a level as a technician.

“In this industry, really pay attention to the technology,” advises Jackels. “Working on fare boxes and the bus computer system is a big part of the job.” That’s why he’s glad he started with training at HTC. “In the old days, things could be fixed with a hammer and some wire. Now it’s all about technology.”

Affordable education

Learning about the technology and having the opportunity to apply his knowledge each day is something that made a difference to Tim Salfetnikov, a 2013 graduate who has been working at Southwest Transit for three years. He credits HTC’s approach to training as a key to his success on the job.

“At HTC, you get hands-on experience and you learn a lot,” says Salfetnikov, who attended classes in the morning, and then worked at Southwest Transit in the afternoon. “It’s affordable, and there are two campuses, so it’s convenient.”  Salfetnikov’s sister is completing training in accounting at the college.

Making a connection

For Justin Weiner, Southwest Transit second-shift vehicle maintenance manager, working in the transportation industry is a family tradition. “My brother was an HTC grad, and my dad was on the program’s advisory board,” says Weiner, who graduated from HTC in 2005. Prior to enrolling at the college, Weiner had worked in technical support and in electronics technology in the United States Navy.

“I liked the way the program was set up, alternating between classroom training and internship, so you got hands-on experience along with classroom learning,” says Weiner. That combination has provided a solid foundation for building a career. 

For the team of technicians at Southwest Transit, keeping customers on the move is a top priority.  

“It’s important to retain good workers,” emphasizes Steve LaFrance. “It’s great to see them climb the ladder and advance.”  He knows that having a capable crew makes the difference to the passengers who count on Southwest Transit. That’s why he’s glad to have Hennepin Technical College graduates who can keep things moving. 


Last updated by jhanson : 2015-02-22 12:50:26