Utah Technician Pioneers Apprentice Program, Wins National NAPA Award

Dec 15, 2019, 10:27 PM | Updated: 10:49 pm

SANDY, Utah – Tearing into a car is a dirty job that can often leave you encased in oil or up to your neck in grease. But Jake Sorensen might just be the cleanest guy you’ll ever find hiding under a hood.

“This is actually what I love,” he said, as he showed off his clean hands while looking at a diagram to see what wires he needed to access inside a clump of Volkswagen cables.

Sorensen said he often stays relatively clean because filters and fluids aren’t his focus.

“We do a lot on computers,” he said. “A lot more than people realize.”

He’s part detective and part forensic scientist, starting by hooking up a diagnostics tablet to the vehicle.

Jake Sorensen tries to determine the problem with a Volkswagen.

“The codes are more of the direction to go,” Sorensen said. “They’ll point you in the area of the system that has a problem. It doesn’t tell you what the problem is – we have to diagnose that.”

That process is far more complex. He said every manufacturer does things a little differently while talking in detail about determining the engine’s timing as he looked at something resembling an EKG. Sorensen threw out code numbers and specialized slang that sounded like another language – if you want to speak it fluently, proper certification is a must.

“They have eight basic tests,” Sorensen said. “If you take those eight basics, then you’re considered a Master Technician.”

Sorensen started working on dirt bikes as a teenager before graduating to cars. He jokingly said he introduces himself as a “high school dropout” and that college just wasn’t a good fit for him.

Although he did end up getting his high school diploma as an adult, he didn’t have much knowledge about the basic certification tests or what they meant.

“The owner offered me a dollar-an-hour raise for each one of those tests I’d take,” he said.

Not knowing any better, Sorensen took all eight at the same time.

“He said there were eight tests, so I took eight tests,” he said with a laugh. “I was naive, luckily for me. I didn’t know any better.”

Sorensen never got his $8 raise — he was told they thought he’d just take one or two at a time. Fortunately, he was able to land another job with better pay. People with his certifications were in high demand and that demand has only gotten stronger.

Jake Sorensen speaks with an apprentice at McNeil’s Auto Care in Sandy.

Believe it or not, Sorensen said Master Technicians can make more than many college graduates.

“There absolutely are technicians out there that can make six figures with the right experience and the right education,” said Pete McNeil of McNeil’s Auto Care, where Sorensen works. “There’s definitely a misunderstanding of where that ceiling is at and, unfortunately, I think it’s limited the amount of people that want to get into the industry.”

McNeil and Sorensen both shared the same frustrations about the number of qualified technicians they’d come across.

“We’d put out an ad and we’d only have a few applicants,” Sorensen said. “Most of the applicants just weren’t qualified. So we realized we have to do something here. We can’t just keep waiting for a solution to come from somebody else.”

Sorensen said many of those looking to get into the industry face a problem: going to a trade school can result in large student loan debts and technicians need to buy their own tools before they can land a job.

He decided the solution was right under their noses and helped McNeil come up with a plan. Sorensen now oversees apprentices through a program that lets employees earn a paycheck and their certifications at the same time. Now, not only is he helping fellow employees, but he’s also teaching students from Entrada High School as part of their Auto Tech Pre-apprentice Program.

“We encourage learning,” McNeil said. “We know it’s a big part of the industry. The guys here, if they take the tests, they obviously get a pay increase for learning and doing the things they should.”

Once the apprentice program in their shop got rolling, McNeil called a meeting.

“It was kind of weird, he was trying to make sure everybody was here,” Sorensen said.

They were waiting on a phone call from NAPA’s corporate office, who was calling to announce that Sorensen was the “NAPA ASE Technician of the Year.” Out of 17,000 NAPA locations, Sorensen was the winner, thanks in part to his apprentice program.

NAPA’s now taking the apprentice program nationwide and has looked to Sorensen to help them scale it.

Pete McNeil and Jake Sorensen are featured in a video produced by NAPA.

“I was in Arizona with them, and I asked them if they’ve had very many people sign up,” he said. “I was hoping to hear 20 or so, but they said they had 103.”

NAPA’s isn’t the only national award Sorensen’s received — he also took home the “All-Star” award for “Shop Worker of the Year” from Ratchet+Wrench magazine.

But despite all his accolades, Sorensen’s focused on two things: showing people they don’t necessarily need a college degree to build a career and helping others build those careers can be an award unto itself.

“There’s people that want to get into this industry, they just have no idea how to do it,” he said.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Local News

Credit card skimming device...
Cary Schwanitz

Federal judge sentences foreign national in $200,000 skimming scheme

A federal judge sentenced Yofre Napoleon Almonte, 49, to prison after he plead guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud and aggravated identity theft.
19 hours ago
Photo of 17-year-old Maddie Anderson...
Ayanna Likens

17-year-old fighting for her life after a suspected drunk driver hits her car

A 17-year-old girl is in an intensive care unit after a suspected impaired driver smashed into her car Sunday night.
19 hours ago
Luke Bowman, chief pilot for the Utah Department of Public Safety's Aero Bureau, describes Thursday...
Pat Reavy, KSL.com

Pilot recounts rescue of ‘very fortunate’ helicopter crew that crashed in La Sal Mountains

The pilot who helped rescue three crew members in a La Sal Mountains helicopter crash on Thursday says the group is lucky the wreckage didn't slide down the mountainside.
19 hours ago
Theives often hit Heebeegeebees comic stor...
Mike Anderson

Retail theft takes a hard toll on small local businesses

Inflation isn't the only force behind rising prices as the former CEOs of Walmart and Home Depot say retail theft is growing at epidemic levels.
19 hours ago
The new Utah State Prison is pictured in Salt Lake City on Oct. 21, 2021. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret N...
Madison Swenson

Utah Dept. of Health and Human Services to take over health care in state’s prison system

The Utah Department of Corrections announced Friday that health care in the state's prison system will be controlled by the Department of Health and Human Services beginning July 1, 2023.
19 hours ago
(KSL TV)...
Eliza Pace

Utah Department of Public Safety reports 96 hate crimes in 2021

There were 96 total hate crimes in Utah in 2021. Here's the groups they targeted.
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Utah Technician Pioneers Apprentice Program, Wins National NAPA Award