In December of 1968, and then in the spring and October of 1969, the Senate Antitrust and Monopoly Subcommittee on Auto Repair Legislation met in Washington, D.C. Sen. Philip Hart (D-Mich.) was the chairman of that committee. They were looking at legislation to try to improve the quality of automotive repair. There
had been considerable press about improper and unnecessary repairs performed by auto repair shops.
Joan Claybrook, a consumer advocate, was very much in the news in those days, writing stories about people being ripped off by auto repair men. There were other stories, too. 60 Minutes did two programs with Morley Safer on the subject, and they pretty well told the
story of how bitter some people felt about their auto repair experiences.
The legislation proposed was to establish diagnostic centers where people could take their cars to be diagnosed, which, in all likelihood, the government would operate. In addition, they proposed the licensing of automobile mechanics, with the thought that by
licensing they could provide standards of competency and a means to punish any fraudulent actions.
At the first subcommittee meeting, this legislation was proposed. Several organizations supported the idea—the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Transportation, some representatives from New York state government, and the Machinists Union.
The National Automobile Dealers Association was asked to attend that meeting and to state its position on the proposed legislation. Warren McEleney, an Oldsmobile and Cadillac dealer from Clinton, Iowa, spoke for NADA. When questioned by Senator Hart, he answered
that NADA had never considered the idea and did not have a position at that time. Hart responded that he would like for NADA to think about all this and come back to the spring session of the committee with some thoughts.
I was in the audience at that time, because I had sold a new Oldsmobile to Hart, had formed a friendship with him and was very much interested in the service end of the car business. Knowing this, then-NADA President Lyman Slack, a Chevrolet dealer from Portland,
Ore., asked me if I would form a committee of dealers to study the question and make a recommendation to the NADA board as to what its position should be. So I put together a committee of local dealers to think about this on NADA’s behalf. I saw this as a unique opportunity for me to get involved with
an issue that could have major consequences for the auto industry. Could this lead to the kind of “impact” that Val Chaslowski had discussed with me? Having a previous relationship with Hart would be helpful.
Paul Herzog, an NADA staff person at the time, suggested to me that our committee meet with the General Service Managers’ Committee of the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) to study the question. AMA’s members were the domestic manufacturers at
that time. No import manufacturers were members. This evolved into a historic meeting, since the two organizations had never met before to address an industry issue.
Prior to meeting with the manufacturers, our committee, on the advice of NADA executive vice president Frank McCarthy, met with the Independent Garage Owners Association, the Automobile Service Industries Association and the National Congress of Petroleum
Retailers to get the thinking of other parts of the industry.
The Independent Garage Owners Association (IGOA) already had in place a mechanics’ certification program, called the National Automobile Technicians Certification Board. They worked very hard to develop test questions, and their thought was to certify
mechanics rather than license them.
There were certain problems with that program, worthy as it was. There was a question as to whether the tests were completely secure; copies of the tests were in several hands. Also, few questions were changed from test to test. But all in all, considering the
limited funds available to IGOA, it was an excellent effort in the right direction.
At the meeting with IGOA, I found out that feelings ran rather strong in our business. Mel Turner from IGOA was particularly incensed, because he had heard that the NADA president, Lyman Slack, had referred to his members as “alley mechanics.” I came to realize
at this meeting that when emotions run high, it is not easy to get diverse groups to agree, even when there is a common cause, but overall it was good meeting, and an important one. We parted on friendly terms and agreed to stay in touch.
Our NADA committee next met with AMA’s General Service Managers’ Committee, whose chairman was George Brown of American Motors. It also included John Bates of General Motors, Magnus Von Braun (the brother of Werner von Braun, the space scientist) of Chrysler
and Ed Williams of Ford.
In planning this meeting, we asked Dr. Ben Shimberg of Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, N.J., to discuss with us the pros and cons of licensing. Shimberg had written a book on licensing and how it had performed in the marketplace. He had come to
the conclusion, after a great deal of study, that licensing did not work. It did not achieve its objectives, either in raising skill levels or in controlling fraud.
Why not? Well, to start with, licensing skill levels normally are set quite low. Think of a driver’s license. It doesn’t take much driving skill to get a driver’s license. As for revoking a mechanic’s license because of fraudulent activity, think of the number of
drivers who have had DWI violations and continue to hold a driver’s license; it would be unlikely that a mechanic committing a fraudulent act would have his license revoked, since it would deny him the right to work.
Finally, when you create a licensing program, you normally give a license to everybody who is out there already operating, so you bless any incompetency that already exists. After listening to Shimberg, we felt that we should tell Senator Hart that
licensing was not a good idea for the industry or for the public. But, we thought, was there another approach to the problem that might work?
Lessons from Another Industry
My brothers-in-law, Jack Powers and Wayne Parker, had taken CLU and CPCU tests in the insurance industry to become certified, and though I realized that most people who bought life insurance didn’t know what in the world “CLU” meant next to the agent’s name on
his card, people in the industry respected “certified life underwriters,” because they knew that the tests were tough and that, compared with his peers, anyone certified had a proven high degree of knowledge about insurance.
So I asked Dr. Shimberg if we could develop a voluntary certification program for mechanics where standards could be set high so as to be meaningful to mechanics, employers and consumers alike. Dr. Shimberg, who had been involved in developing college board
tests and many other programs at ETS, assured us that it could be done.
I said, “Well I assume that if we have a test, it can’t be a written test. It’s going to have to be some kind of hands-on test.” Shimberg responded that it would not have to be hands-on; written questions could be developed that would show if the person had the
knowledge to do the work and could do the work. He said that ETS had developed tests for cosmetologists and could do the same for mechanics.
We asked him how we would go about creating such tests. He responded that first we would have to decide what areas of repair work we wished to certify and what would be the standards for certification in each area. Once that was established, test questions would
have to be developed and a validation study done to see if the test results were commensurate with the skill levels of those tested.
The program would have to be an ongoing program. Questions would have to be changed periodically. Tests should be given under very secure conditions, like the college board tests, maybe twice a year at given test centers. It would be expensive to develop,
but it could be done.
In listening to this, we felt that if we could do this, there would be many benefits to the industry and to consumers. If we could identify the competence that is out there, and then encourage mechanics to improve their knowledge and skills, we could do many
things. To start with, we could improve the image of the mechanic himself. There had never really been a program to give mechanics much recognition of any kind, particularly of a national nature. In a sense, they were to some degree a downtrodden lot, and after watching 60 Minutes and reading some of
Joan Claybrook’s articles, some of their wives and mothers probably felt that they should get a “respectable job.”
In addition to giving the mechanics some recognition, it would enable an employer, in hiring a mechanic, to have some concept in advance of how good he is, instead of putting him to work in hopes that he would work out. Also, it would allow the consumer, if he
so wanted, to seek out such a certified person. Everyone would benefit if we could do this, and as we talked about it, I got rather excited.
Of course, not everyone was enthusiastic. John Bates of GM and Magnus Von Braun of Chrysler thought that certification was probably a “necessary evil,” but to avoid licensing, which would be worse, we might as well get on with it. The dealers in the room
were more positive as to the potential benefits of a good certification program, and George Brown, the AMA chairman, agreed.
I recall later discussing this program with one of General Motors’ finest service people, Claire Oxendale of Oldsmobile’s service department, a man I respected, both for his intelligence and his integrity. I made notes as to what he had to say: “Beyond
publicity, there’s nothing good about certification. We are compounding the problem. When you have to take a test, many won’t try. Some can’t read or write. There are hard-core problems. How do you certify different types of equipment? We could mislead the public if they think a certified mechanic can
do anything. We might be better off to let the government tackle it.” I was greatly disappointed by Oxendale’s reaction, and I was strongly opposed to the idea of government involvement if the industry could get the job done on its own.
Consensus for Certification
Fortunately for the industry and the consumers, the majority of the NADA and AMA committee members were for certification. It would be a daunting task, but the rewards could be great if we were successful.
We adjourned that meeting thinking that we had discovered the right track. It would be a very bold move; it would be a difficult move; it would be an expensive move. We would have to broaden our efforts to include not only the entire industry, meaning
independents, service station operators, the parts industry and the petroleum industry, etc., but also to involve the people from the public sector, such as educators, consumer advocates and representatives of government so that every group impacted would have some say.
Shimberg gave us some idea of the steps and costs involved in creating and continuing the program. This was going to be a big task, but the potential rewards were great. We decided to go back to our respective organizations to seek their approval to move
I addressed the NADA board and got their approval to move ahead in a joint effort with AMA. In doing so, I made it clear that if this program was to work it would have to be a program for the entire industry, not just new-car dealers.
The NADA board agreed to fund the program jointly with AMA. Meanwhile, AMA General Service Managers’ Committee got a similar agreement from AMA to move ahead jointly with NADA.
In May of 1970, the two committees met to discuss and orchestrate the development of tests. In the meantime, we communicated with Hart’s staff and let them know what we were doing. During the next 12 months, we developed the specifications, the tasks that we
would test for, how many tests we would have, and what systems they would deal with, such as brakes, engine, front end, transmissions, etc. After developing specifications for these tests, the writing of questions was done primarily by vocational school instructors from all across the country. I
was greatly surprised and pleased by the interest, involvement and enthusiasm of the factory service people and instructors.
Hart, in his hearings, was still favoring diagnostic centers, but he stopped talking about licensing. Two states, New York and New Jersey, became interested in licensing and held hearings to discuss it. We sent representatives to those hearings to point out
that a voluntary certification program was being developed that would be far better than mandatory licensing. The two states agreed to hold off.
By the end of the 12-month development period, we had tests that could be tested for validity. With the help of ETS and many of the auto trade association offices around the country, as well as the independents, we conducted a validation study testing 778
mechanics in 16 states.
To select the 778, we sent questionnaires to thousands of mechanics. We asked each mechanic a series of questions as to how often he performed certain tasks and how well he did them. We asked each mechanic’s supervisor to evaluate him similarly. If the two
responses were the same, we felt we had a valid person to be tested.
We had a wide range of experience, from apprentices to master mechanics. The question was, would the score on the tests be in line with their abilities? In reviewing the results, we decided that the tests were valid. ETS was very helpful in our making this
We could go forward with the program.
We kept the Independent Garage Owners Association informed as to what we were doing throughout the whole process, and they provided some mechanics for the validation study. They elected to continue the National Automotive Technicians Certification Board
(NATCB) and its testing program, but to stay in touch with us, and they expressed the hope that someday we could have one program for the entire industry.
We spent the next 11 months refining the tests, and the test questions, and creating the organization that was going to administer the program.
There were several interesting issues to deal with. One was whether we were certifying “mechanics” or “technicians.” Today the word “technician” is used rather than “mechanic.” But in 1971, when this was being considered, most people used “mechanic.” Auto
manufacturers, along with a very small group of the 50,000 dealers in business at that time, used the word “technician.” The thought was that “technician” was a higher-class word than “mechanic” and implied that the modem-day mechanic required higher skills than the mechanic of the past.
Although I was very sympathetic to these ideas, I felt that since the vast majority of consumers had used and continued to use the word “mechanic,” we should use the word best known to the public. The public didn’t say, “I’ve got a favorite technician.” They’d
say, “I’ve got a favorite mechanic.” And so I opted for the word “mechanic,” and succeeded in getting that word used. Happily, over the years, “technician” has become the preferred word throughout the industry, although the public is still getting used to the idea.
Deciding on a Name – and a CEO
Then there was the question, what do we call this organization? Fortunately, we had George Brown of American Motors, the chairman of the Service Manager’s Group, a very bright, articulate and committed man. George came up with the name “Institute for Automotive
Excellence.” It sounded good to us. I suggested we add the word “national,” to let everyone know that this was something that applied to the entire nation, and so “NIASE, National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence,” was born. We weren’t thinking about acronyms in those days and that people
might start calling it “ny-ass-ee,” which didn’t sound right. Years later the name was changed to “ASE, or Automotive Service Excellence,” which, being shorter, seemed to work better both graphically and verbally.
In 1972, when NIASE was incorporated, there were four incorporators. In addition to George Brown and myself, there was Henry Sorenson, proprietor of Belmont Motor Clinic in California, and Ed Harlow, a Washington, D.C.-area Volkswagen dealer. We decided to put
together a board of directors that would be very diverse. It would include manufacturers; dealers; service managers; certainly a technician or two; representatives from the independent industries, the parts industry and the petroleum industry; educators; government people; and consumer advocates. We
wound up with a total of 29 directors.
A committee was put together of John Bates of General Motors, Ed Williams of Ford and myself for the purpose of hiring a president as CEO. The initial thinking was that it should be an industry person, someone of a certain stature who was retired from the
industry, and we interviewed a few. None of them impressed me as having any great burning desire to do the job; they were, more or less, in a retirement mode. The more I thought about it, the more I felt that what we needed was not an industry person. We had plenty of industry people already involved. We
needed a bureaucrat—someone who had worked for a government-type agency and could communicate well with state governments, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Transportation, Senator Hart, etc. This also would enhance our image as an organization formed to serve everyone, and not just the auto
Our initial choice was a neighbor of mine who had a high-level position with the Department of Commerce. He said he needed an annual salary of $50,000, and we agreed to pay that. After accepting the job, he was counseled by a friend that the entire venture was
too risky. He called and said he wasn’t coming.
We were lucky in finding Herb Fuhrman, who had just the right background in government and was extremely interested in doing the job. When I first interviewed Herb, he did not strike me as being a particularly forceful or dynamic individual. I felt that this
was not going to be an easy job, and some degree of “drive” was required. Fortunately, I had learned a long time ago that you can’t tell a book by its cover, that first impressions are often wrong and that sometimes there is some real strength smoldering underneath what you see.
In my dealership I had used a psychological test, developed by Steve Mayer and Herb Greenberg of Princeton, N.J., identifying what’s really inside a person, and I convinced Ed Williams and John Bates that we should give Herb the test, which today is called the
Herb tested well for ego drive, empathy and intelligence, as well as organizational and communicative skills. He would be a good choice. In the fall of 1972, our committee made a unanimous choice to hire him in time for our first board meeting.
Government positions have publicized grade levels and salary ranges, but this was not government, and being a completely new position, there was no established grade level or salary range. It was my job to get the right man and to pay whatever we had to within
reason to get the job done, but no more than that.
Another important question was, “how would the tests be graded?” We decided that there would be a cutting score. If you scored at that level or above, you passed. If you were below it, you did not. The next question was, “at what level would these cutting
scores be set?”
The manufacturers had concerns about this, because they felt that if too many people failed to pass the tests, it would reflect badly on the industry. Those members of the press who had been critical of the auto repair industry might run with that. Although
some of the manufacturers wanted to lower the bar somewhat, many of us, including myself, argued the opposite. We wanted the tests to be tough tests in order to be meaningful. And we wanted the people who passed them to be very proud of the fact that they got this recognition. We wanted their peers to
think, “That guy passed the test; he’s pretty good.” We also wanted to protect the public so they could be assured that a certified mechanic was capable of making an appropriate and quality repair.
Frank Kremel was the executive director of AMA at that time, and Frank and I had many discussions about this. He did not have an auto industry background and probably was hired for his lobbying abilities and political connections. I found him to be bright and
pragmatic. Frank was very helpful in getting the manufacturers to understand the importance of having the cutting scores set at meaningful levels, and the issue was settled. It is interesting that, to my knowledge, to this day that level of competency, that standard, those cutting scores, haven’t
changed and have not been challenged.
In late 1972, we had our first board meeting and conducted our first test. The board meeting was an interesting experience, bringing together such a diverse group of people. I was pleasantly surprised how well it went. Most of these people had never met
one another, and if they didn’t have different axes to grind, they certainly had a wide variety of thought patterns.
We quickly found that we had a common denominator that helped to unite us: We were all interested in improving the quality of repair, and helping the industry and the public in any way we could. The dynamics of the interaction of industry management and
technicians with consumer advocates, educators and government regulators was exciting to experience. It also was very productive. We had been fortunate in assembling a group of people who were informed and had their own opinions, but also had open minds and just wanted to get the job done. This certainly
boded well for the future of NIASE.
Getting the Word Out
Early in 1972 we publicized the program to the industry, public and press by showing a slide show in all the major markets. Ford Motor Company offered to fund the production of these slides. When Mel Chesney of Ford told me that the cost to Ford was going to be
$75,000, I told him that the price was ridiculous and I could get it done at my company advertising agency (Raider Advertising) for $5,000. Mel told me not to get upset that Ford (and other auto manufacturers) are used to paying too much!
Our first tests were conducted in November 1972 at 164 test centers around the country, and we opted to do it like the college board tests, under very secure conditions, on the same day and twice a year.
We originally had talked about eight different tests and then possibly a ninth one for air conditioning. We finally wound up with four different tests in four different areas: (1) powerplants; (2) transmissions, clutches, drive lines and axles; (3) suspension, steering and brake systems; and (4) charging systems, basic body, electrical and air-conditioning systems. A technician could take one or more tests for a fee of $10 per test.
A little over 12,000 technicians showed up to take the first tests. That in itself was quite remarkable to many of us. From the very conception of the program we wondered, “Will technicians be willing to take the tests?” “Who will pay the test fees?” “Will the technicians pay the test fees out of their own pockets, if their employers didn’t?”
It was very gratifying to see the large turnout. In many cases employers paid the test fees, but there also were many technicians who paid their own.
Of the 12,000 or so, 8,400 passed one or more tests, and 3,600 didn’t pass any. Of those technicians taking all four tests, 17 percent passed all four and became what we decided to call “General Automotive Mechanics (GAMs).” This in itself was an interesting question.
Many of us who operated automotive repair shops felt that specialization had gone too far. We had front-end specialists, transmission specialists, motor tune-up specialists, oil changers, etc., but we needed more generalists—people who could do anything.
Generalists working on a car might observe a problem other than the one they were working on, whereas a specialist might not. In addition, valuable time could be saved by not having to move a vehicle from one specialist to another.
We were hoping that this program would encourage more technicians to broaden their skills and work toward becoming GAMs. Happily, this has happened over the years, for the betterment of the industry and the automotive public.
Another worthy byproduct of the program was that bringing management and those actually performing the repairs together with consumer advocates and organizations fostered a much better understanding on both sides. Consumer resolution organizations with consumer and industry participation started springing up around the country, largely created and promoted by local auto trade association groups—with gratifying results.
President Herb Fuhrman did a good job in keeping all of us working together, and the decision to hire “an experienced bureaucrat” proved to be a good one, as Herb interacted well with the Federal Trade Commission and other national and local government agencies.
There were some lively discussions. One of the directors, Jack Morton of Chrysler, sent Herb Fuhrman the following cartoon:
There also was the question of the union. The machinists union had originally supported mandatory licensing. In order to get their support for the new certification program, Henry Sorenson of the Independent Garage Owner’s Association and I met with a committee of the union at their convention in Las Vegas. We told them about our program and offered them the opportunity to put a union representative on the board. It was very spirited meeting. Most of them were very distrustful of anything that management had had a hand in creating. Yet there were two or three of the union people who had some positive feelings. One stood up and said, “Look, they’re talking about something we been talking about for ages. Now why don’t you guys shut up and listen to these people?” The final result of the meeting was that they decided to opt out and not become a part of the NIASE project. We had given them the opportunity, so it was their decision. In the long run, I believe that we were much better off without union involvement.
As a result of the tests, we did get some bad press from people who chose to emphasize that some technicians failed the tests. We didn’t let that deter us and moved ahead.
There were other questions: How do you give recognition to the people who pass? And how do you inform the public as to who they are?
We opted for a plastic card that could, like a credit card, be carried by the technician showing the systems in which he was certified, a copy of which could be displayed on a plaque in the office of the repair shop for consumers to see.
George Brown suggested a sign showing our logo, which could be sold to repair shops to display that they employed certified technicians. The sign would say, “We employ technicians certified by the National Automotive Certification Board. Ask to see their credentials.”
We also decided to provide patches for the technicians to wear on their uniforms identifying them as having been certified. There was a separate patch for each test. I might say that as years went on, and we developed other tests, if a technician really wore all his patches, he did look a little bit like a highly decorated general!
Overall, all problems were addressed properly, and the program moved forward.
The original funding for NIASE had come from AMA and NADA. Additional financial help now came from some of the import manufacturers, from oil companies and from the service industries. Truly it was becoming an industry program.
Merging of Interests
In January of 1974, something happened that we all were hoping would happen, when NIASE, the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence and NATCB merged so that we could have one test for the entire industry.
Three people were greatly responsible in getting that done. One was Mel Turner of IGOA, who, in the very early days of NIASE, had been somewhat distrustful of the project because of a derogatory comment NADA’s president reportedly had made concerning independent mechanics. Mel was real force in IGOA, and his conversion to, and support of, NIASE was critical. A second was Henry Sorenson, an independent garage operator in Los Angeles and an officer in IGOA, who had been an early supporter and original incorporator of NIASE. A third was Ron Weiner, a body shop operator, member of IGOA and one of their divisional directors. In due time, Ron would succeed Fuhrman as the president of our organization.
All three worked behind the scenes to get the people who had put together the NATCB certification tests to realize that the NIASE program was more professional than NATCB’s and that NIASE had the financial resources that would be needed going forward.
For each new test session, some new questions had to be developed for security reasons and to keep the tests up-to-date. Individual questions had to be tested to see if each properly discriminated between the technicians who knew their job and those who didn’t. Of course, the whole exercise of building tests was ETS’s province, and they performed very well.
In 1974, Senator Hart was a guest speaker at an NAISE board meeting. Although he still had an agenda about diagnostic centers, he congratulated us on what we had done. It was apparent that licensing was no longer on his mind.
In introducing Senator Hart, I made it clear to everyone in the room that he had been the impetus for our organization, and that if it wasn’t for Senator Hart, we wouldn’t be there. In his remarks, Hart said that he was very proud of NAISE, and felt that our organization was one of the very few things he had ever accomplished as a United States senator. It was an incredible statement from a man who seemed disappointed that he had not accomplished more, although today there stands the Hart Senate Office Building, a reflection of the incredible respect that both sides of the aisle in the Senate had for him. To me, Hart’s comments constituted a monumental moment for ASE.
As the years went by, some states continued to play with the idea of licensing technicians or having some type of government surveillance. Michigan actually enacted a technician licensing program. I don’t think it’s done very much to improve the quality of repairs in Michigan, certainly not what ASE has done.
California, still concerned with fraudulent activities by repair shops, established a department to investigate automotive repair complaints and, for some eight years or so, investigated thousands of consumer complaints. It was interesting that the head of that organization went before the California legislature and said that his organization should be disbanded, because after thousands of investigations, they had found that the instances of fraud were miniscule. The real problem was the competence of the mechanic/technician working on the vehicle—the position that NIASE had taken all along.
In time, we recognized the need to certify technician educational programs. Many programs were simply “hobby programs” that did not adequately prepare a student to gain employment as a technician. Thus, the National Automotive Technician Educational Foundation (NATEF) was created, setting standards and requirements for programs to become certified. I was its founder and first chairman. The program has been very successful as the quality of schooling has greatly improved.
Looking back, ASE—as we now call it—has been an amazingly successful program and unique in that it’s the only program I know of that was created and administered by all segments of a large industry, resulting in important and substantial benefits to everyone, including, most importantly, the general public. Test participation by technicians continues at very high levels. Originally, I felt that we might reach a point in time when almost everyone interested in being certified would be certified, and the number of tests would dwindle. It hasn’t happened.
Without any great fanfare, the program continues to accomplish the purposes for which it was created. It’s something of which we all can be proud.
Every year thousands of people show up to take the ASE tests to become certified. As of November 2013, 15,306,759 tests had been passed or failed, and 1,227,956 individuals had passed one or more tests and been certified.
The ASE blue logo is frequently used in advertisements of organizations seeking to hire qualified auto and truck technicians. You see them in newspapers, magazines and even on the backs of buses.
As for NATEF, the quality of automotive vocational curricula has greatly improved, and there are currently 2,341 accredited auto/truck/collision programs nationwide.
As vehicle sales and units in operation have increased and vehicles and their systems have become more complex, the industry has done a reasonable job in building and training its technician workforce. Today’s auto technician is better paid and has greater stature than his predecessors. He must be, and is, better educated.
I hope that the industry will work with renewed vigor, building on what we’ve done. Despite all our efforts, there is still a shortage of qualified technicians.
In addition, I have always thought that ASE could be a wonderful model for other industries, and have hoped that someday other industries might initiate similar programs. I still have that hope.
Jack Pohanka served as president of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) in 1976. He was a founder and chairman of the National
Institute for Service Excellence (ASE), which tests and certifies auto technicians nationally. He also founded and was the first chairman of the National
Automobile Technicians Education Foundation, which evaluates and certifies automotive curricula in the country's vocational schools.