Community College of Philadelphia plans to boost the size of the automotive-technology training facility at its West Philadelphia campus to sustain enrollment by offering a pathway to increasingly brainy jobs servicing cars and trucks.
The 37,000-square-foot expansion will be built using a site of about two-thirds of an acre acquired from a benefactor, former nursing-home executive Daniel Veloric, north of the college’s auto-tech program building near 48th and Ludlow Streets.
CCP aims to double the enrollment in its auto-tech associate's degree program to 160 students through construction of the expansion to its existing 10,000-square-foot building, said Gregory Murphy, the college's vice president for institutional advancement.
The project also will create a large enough space for the school to add diesel truck repair and maintenance to the program’s curriculum, Murphy said, along with capacity for classes on vehicles powered by alternative fuels such as compressed natural gas.
Through these steps, Murphy said, the school is seeking to supply students with an inclination toward auto repair with the increasingly sophisticated tech skills needed to run diagnostics and tweak settings on today’s computer-reliant cars.
“Automotive jobs aren’t just about changing oil or tires,” he said. “They’re very, very high-tech.”
The market for auto-tech workers has been stagnant in recent years. There were 638,080 employed nationwide as automotive-service technicians and mechanics in 2015, according to the most recent available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, down from 654,800 in 2005. Average yearly salaries in the field rose 16 percent to $40,720 in 2015 from $35,140 in 2005, but pay across all occupations rose 28 percent to $48,320 over that time.
Still, those rates could be poised for swifter growth as the quickly aging ranks of car mechanics retire, possibly stoking competition for young, tech-savvy workers to replace them.
Service- and parts-department staffers make up about half the 19,000 workers in franchised new-car dealerships across Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Montgomery, and Delaware Counties, said Kevin Mazzucola, executive director of the Automobile Dealers Association of Greater Philadelphia.
With about half the nation’s service techs expected to retire over the next decade or so, “there’s going to be a dearth of technicians in the workforce,” Mazzucola said. “This provides an employment landscape that is fertile for job opportunities for years to come"
Meanwhile, said Deborah Kobes, an associate director with Boston-based Jobs for the Future, CCP is especially wise to be enhancing its program for diesel truck mechanics, where some of the field’s strongest demand growth is expected to support the expanding U.S. shipping sector.
“In creating a skilled workforce, there are a variety of occupations that are going to be needed,” Kobes said.
The unemployment rate in the West Philadelphia zip code surrounding CCP’s West Regional Center was 11.6 percent in 2015, compared with an 8.3 percent rate citywide, according to U.S. Census estimates. Veloric said he sold his vacant land next to CCP’s existing auto center to help forge new opportunities for surrounding communities in West Philadelphia, where his Geriatric & Medical Cos. nursing-home business had been based.
He and CCP declined to specify how much the college paid for the land, only that the price was about 35 percent of the property’s market value.
The college expects to spend as much as $18 million on construction, with about one-third of that coming from as-yet unnamed philanthropic contributions and much of the rest from a bond issue, CCP vice president Murphy said. The college also is seeking a $5 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant for the project from the state.
The construction, which could begin by early 2018, will occur on the land acquired from Veloric and on the facilty's parking lot along 48th Street, Murphy said.
The expansion also is being undertaken with an eye toward boosting the size of CCP's overall student body, Murphy said. The college experienced a 15 percent drop in enrollment to about 32,200 during the 2014-15 school year, from about 38,100 when the numbers last peaked in 2009-10.
A separate initiative seeks to boost enrollment at CCP's main Spring Garden Street campus by working with a private developer on a large apartment complex, in part to accommodate international students.
Veloric said the West Philadelphia project would allow CCP to capitalize on nearby developments such as uCity Square and Schuylkill Yards, which have been concentrated closer to the campuses of University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University to the east.
“There’s no one going past 46th Street,” Veloric said. “But it’s a marketplace that’s ripe for development.”