New Automotive FlexSpace Lab set as ‘stepping stone’ in training future technicians

Monday, August 14th, 2023

Southeastern Community College celebrated the construction of the newest building on campus Monday morning with a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Automotive FlexSpace Lab. The new lab will expand the automotive technology program and provide an area to train Columbus County’s next generation of automotive technicians.  

Having 40 years of experience in the automotive repair industry, English said that automotive systems was a passion for him. Without a technical training program like automotive technology, English said he would not be where he is today. He described the new FlexLab as a “stepping stone” before moving to the future $14 million, 25,000 square foot automotive facility planned for construction on the northeastern side of campus.      

“There’s a huge shortage in technical trades specifically in automotive and collision repair,” English said. “Nationwide, there are 268,000 job openings right now, but there’s only 48,000 students graduating from a technical program. That shows you the significant shortage, and it’s only growing.” 

Without the support of the SCC Board of Trustees, SCC President Dr. Chris English said the new FlexLab “would not be possible.” English thanked Chris Worley of Bill Worley and Sons General Contractors for the construction of the new lab. 

Dr. Mike Ammons, associate dean of technical training, welcomed the audience to the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Automotive FlexSpace Lab. SCC faculty, staff, trustees, industry partners, county and Whiteville city officials were in attendance.  

“This is going to be a great opportunity for our students to develop the skills and training they need to enter the workforce,” Ammons said. “This is going to have a tremendous impact on our students and community and for those industry business partners in the county.” 

Johnny O’Connell, automotive technology instructor, explained that he started working at SCC as the first automotive instructor in a building off campus on James B. White Highway behind the former BB&T Call Center. After witnessing a shortage of automotive technicians in our area, O’Connell said he wants to help alleviate that problem with the automotive program on campus

“I am just overjoyed to see this sitting here and finally be on campus,” O’Connell said. “It’s great for me, and it’s great for the students. One of the most important things for me is to keep the automotive industry going because we need people to work on cars.” 

David Higgins, SCC’s new automotive technology instructor, said that his 20 years of teaching experience at Whiteville High School and work experience as an automotive technician at Vann Underwood’s dealership in Whiteville, has prepared him for teaching at SCC. He wants to work with the automotive business partners in the county to fill those shops with the best technicians.

SCC Board of Trustees Chair Joe Hooks said the new FlexLab was a chance for growth in Columbus County. He thanked the Columbus County Board of Commissioners, County Manager Eddie Madden and Rep. Brenden Jones for their support in helping fund new projects on campus.  

“The county is poised to grow, and we want to be the first step in that,” Hooks told the audience. “We want to be a part of training people and initiating companies coming here and training their employees.” 

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