The NATEF (National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation) is the organization entrusted with approving automotive training programs for accreditation. Programs that receive accreditation are considered to be the elite auto mechanic education programs in the United States. The NATEF was created as a way of enhancing auto mechanic education as a whole. When an automotive technology program is certified, it has proven to have surpassed standards that are considered to be above the industry norm. The status of an auto mechanic education program is measured against whether it is capable of qualifying students for ASE certification upon completion of the curriculum.
History of the NATEF
The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) was first established in 1972 as an organization that recognizes auto mechanics who display an above-average knowledge level. That led to the development of the NATEF which certifies auto mechanic education programs. The NATEF’s mission has always been rather straightforward. It was created to conduct evaluations of auto mechanic training programs and compared them to the industry standards. The NATEF developed a set of standards and programs that met those standards proved to be among the elite when it came to training students in automotive repair. The NATEF has gone on to accredit programs in each of the fifty states. These programs offer auto mechanic education training at the post-secondary level. The skills that are taught in a NATEF-accredited program are similar to the skills auto mechanics need to master in order to pass ASE certification exams.
The Accreditation Process
To become accredited, an auto mechanic education program must meet all the standards and requirements set forth by the NATEF. The accreditation standards for each certification are rather extensive. And because a school may be accredited in one area, it does not mean accreditation applies to all programs. For example, an automotive technology program at one school may be accredited while its auto collision program may not be accredited. There are standards that need to be passed, including ones in the following areas:
- Student Services
- Learning Resources
- Instructional Staff
There is a detailed process to follow in route to receiving accreditation from the NATEF. Prior to applying for NATEF accreditation, a program has the opportunity to self-evaluate and draw comparisons to the national standards. This will allow the program to make any necessary changes before applying for accreditation. Once a self-evaluation is completed and sent to the NATEF, a decision will follow on whether or not the program even qualifies for an evaluation.
When a program qualifies for a review, there is an on-site evaluation conducted by an ASE representative, who has achieved Master Technician status. That representative visits the facility to examine its resources. This is a step-by-step process which includes an on-site evaluation, examination of class syllabi, sequence of instruction, the program training materials, in addition to other areas. A program must also produce a list that offers the names of six recent graduates and where they are locally employed.
When it is decided that a program has met all the standards for NATEF certification, one will be issued for a period of five years. A compliance review is required to be submitted to the NATEF two and a half years into that accreditation. It is not simply a one and done process as the NATEF monitors each program that has received accreditation.
Benefits of NATEF accreditation
The benefits of NATEF accreditation
are experienced in numerous ways. Benefits are not limited to just an institution that offers auto mechanic training. Benefits also extend to students, auto repair shops and the entire automotive community. Here are some ways that NATEF accreditation can benefit that community:
- Improves reputation of program
- Enhances potential for funding
- Strengthens involvement with corporations
- Boosts skill level of technicians
- Provides comprehensive training
Mechanics can earn individual certifications from the ASE, although those certifications are different from a NATEF accreditation. However, attending a program that is NATEF accredited will better prepare auto mechanics to become ASE certified. This will introduce them to the necessary skills and knowledge that needs to be attained for ASE certification. It will also reduce the amount of work experience required before being approved to take an ASE certification exam.
Much of the auto repair industry is dictated by individual abilities. Many of those abilities are reflected in certifications. There are auto repair shops that will only hire auto mechanics who are ASE certified. For auto mechanics right out of a post-secondary school, the path to employment becomes much easier when they can show a degree, diploma or certificate from a NATEF accredited program. State certifications are not required by auto mechanics, just as they are in many other professions. This places more of an emphasis on industry certifications in the auto repair field. This is one more reason the NATEF has become a widely recognized and highly-respected name in the auto repair industry.
Three Levels of NATEF Accreditation
In 2012, the NATEF updated its program accreditation standards. This was done to keep pace with the ongoing changes in the industry. There are now three levels of accreditation, which are structured in a hierarchy. Those levels are as follows:
- Maintenance and Light Repair (MLR)
- Auto Service Technology (AST)
- Master Auto Service Technology (MAST)
Each level in this hierarchy requires a different amount of tasks, instructional qualifications and instructional hours. The goal of the hierarchical format is to build on each set of previous skills and is also reflective of what auto repair shop owners are currently looking for in auto mechanics. This will allow graduates of an accredited program to walk right into an entry-level position and begin to excel.
NATEF Accredited Skillset
Entering an auto mechanic training program is a way to begin a career as an auto mechanic. However, it is important to note that not every auto mechanic education program is created equally. There are programs that go into greater depth in certain aspects of automotive repair. These programs often distinguish themselves as the ones who adequately prepare students for success in auto repair. There are obvious differences in individual performance, although students who excel in a NATEF-accredited program should be expected to have the following abilities:
- Strong communication skills
- Exemplary mechanical aptitude
- Ability to diagnose and reason
- Follow directions with precision
- Excellent manual dexterity
There are continual NATEF accreditation updates implemented as well. For example, innovative technology has now forced auto mechanics to be computer literate. Because most vehicles integrate computer systems into their programming, it has become essential for auto mechanics to understand these specifics. Technical training has been boosted to a highly advanced level in programs that are affiliated with NATEF accreditation. There is also an emphasis on computer literacy in these programs, as it is a required skill for the modern day auto mechanic.
The NATEF affiliation with the ASE has been previously mentioned. However, there is another name to know. The NATEF recently combined with the AYES (Automotive Youth Educational Systems) to form the ASE Education Foundation. The mission of the NATEF will remain the same and the standards will still remain as high, although this is a way of consolidating both programs into one non-profit organization. AYES traditionally dealt with high school education programs in auto repair while the NATEF dealt with post-secondary education programs.
Becoming an instructor at a NATEF program goes beyond just filling out an application and having a job interview. The NATEF has actually developed a guide to help instructors acclimate to that role. The guide has a number of video lessons and helpful hints that include the following:
- Essentials of conducting successful labs
- The proper development of lesson plans
- How to create engaging lessons
- Creating student assessment reports
Many of the standards required for NATEF certification are dependent upon program instructors, which is why the hiring of new instructors is a discerning process. The capability of employing quality instructors is an ongoing priority for NATEF-accredited auto mechanic programs. For auto mechanics looking to transition into this role, it is important to possess an ample number of ASE certifications. NATEF instructors are relied upon to carry out instruction that is considered paramount in the automotive repair industry.