Fresh off Nir HaEmek’s impressive second place finish in the Autonomous Vehicle Competition for Students, which was held for the first time in Israel as an initiative of the Ministry of Education, Zion Attias, the school’s dedicated AutoTech teacher of thirty years, beams with pride.
“I’m so proud of my auto maintenance students,” Attias says. “They worked so hard to prepare for the competition and they achieved great results.”
The Autonomous Vehicle Competition
For the competition, the students were required to prepare a presentation of their autonomous car’s control program algorithm and to explain the program and its effect on the vehicle. The vehicle was then required to drive along a specific route where it followed a line while staying in its driving lane. At the entrance to the route’s tunnel, the vehicle's lights had to go on and then turn off after exiting the tunnel.
Zion Attias (third from left) with his AutoTech students
Other tasks that the vehicle successfully completed were bypassing an obstacle on the route and parallel parking in reverse.
“This event was the culmination of months of work,” Attias says. “There was a very significant learning process. Through the construction of an autonomous vehicle, the students gained valuable experience in electrical studies, control of machinery and mechanics.”
Working with Cars, Adapting to Change
Sitting down to talk with Zion Attias, one can feel his passion for his profession. It is clear that his mission is not to just train young would-be mechanics to repair the cars of today, but also the futuristic vehicles of tomorrow.
“We all recognize that the auto industry is moving towards autonomous vehicles, they are the wave of the future,” Attias says.
“At the same time,” he continues, “there is still a real need for training students in the art of standard automobile maintenance. Here at Nir HaEmek we do both. We are preparing our students for the next 5-10 years- and beyond- by training them to repair both standard and autonomous vehicles. That is why our student’s success in the recent autonomous vehicle competition is so significant. It proves we are looking towards the future while also keeping our pulse on the present.
“The car, in its current state, won’t disappear over the next 20-30 years,” Attias says. “Even hybrid cars still have a motor, breaks, a steering wheel, and other standard parts. The principle is the same. Yes, as far as electronics are concerned, cars are changing. However, the engine is still the same engine; the parts are the same parts. True, the system that checks the breaks will be electronic, but the nuts and bolts of what makes up a car will continue to be the same.”
“Our AutoTech program has also evolved and will continue to change with the times,” Attias says. “Over time – and with the support of generous donors - we’ll be using newer technology and newer equipment. We constantly adapt. It’s a process. As things change, we’ll change.”
New Facilities & Equipment to Attract More Students
“Students love our program,” Attias adds. “In fact, we have much fewer discipline issues than other programs here because the students really enjoy working on cars.”
The program covers the entire spectrum of auto maintenance. In both classroom and practical lessons, the students are trained to take apart cars and put them back together.
“We used to get a lot more students in our program,” Attias laments, “but now there is a lot of competition within our school. Many students are now choosing the police training or electrical studies tracks. Currently we have around 50 students altogether, between 12-15 students per grade, including three 10th grade girls, but our goal is to far exceed those numbers. I firmly believe that in order to make this important AutoTech program more attractive to students we must have a renovated workspace and new equipment that will entice more students to join.”
Opening Doors for Students
The students who complete Nir HaEmek’s AutoTech program earn a Mechanic’s Certificate, which qualifies them to work in a professional auto garage.
For example, Attias says that one of the local garages in the area is run by one of Nir HaEmek’s former teachers and three Nir HaEmek alumni are now working there as the manager strongly prefers to hire Nir HaEmek students to work in his garage.
“Many of our graduates go on to professional mechanical training,” Attias says. "Some go on to special technical schools (post high school programs), where they earn a practical engineer certificate, and many go on to work as mechanics in the army.
Finding their Passion – Under the Hood
“I remember one student in particular who was very introverted, he hardly spoke or communicated, he mostly kept to himself,” Attias says. “He was not social with the other students and he had difficulties in the classroom as well. When he came to our program, he was given an engine to work on and I noticed that as he took it apart he placed every part in a neat row in a very orderly fashion. His workstation was very clean and he worked very nicely. He never lost any parts and he always returned all the equipment he used to its place. After graduation, this student went on to work on generators in the army. It was all thanks to the opportunity he was first given here in this program. That’s where he found his professional calling.”
The students in the Nir HaEmek AutoTech program also go out to work at local garages once a week from 8am-3pm. There they are assigned a specific mechanic to shadow while assisting in all the tasks the regular workers do. Through this hands-on-training, they gain valuable practical experience.
“The garages that we partner with are so happy with our students that many want to hire them to work for them during the summer vacation,” Attias says proudly.
“In fact,” Attias adds, “There was one student in our program who was extremely shy and quiet, but once he started working in one of the local garages once a week he really started opening up.”
When asked about his vision for the future, Attias is optimistic.
I want to see students rushing to join this program,” Attias concludes. “With a renovated workspace and new equipment, I really believe it will happen.”
Photo and Video Credits: Zion Attias