Robin Coto turned a one-year certificate from San Jacinto College into a dream job.
Coto has come a long way in a short time, starting out as a painter’s helper and working his way up to a management position at Penske’s Houston regional collision repair center. The center provides collision repair services for all Penske lease vehicles for the entire Gulf Coast region.
Coto earned an occupational certificate in automotive collision repair technology from San Jacinto College in 2007, and shortly afterwards was hired in an entry-level position at Penske. With technical skills and enthusiasm, he went from painter’s helper to lead painter in a matter of months. He had dreamed of such a job, and he was determined to excel.
“I always enjoyed working with cars and trucks,” Coto commented. “In high school, after painting my first car, I knew at that moment that is what I wanted to do.”
Auto bodywork is a specialized, skilled craft, and Coto knew that to go far would require training.
“I chose San Jacinto College because I had heard their training was top notch and very hands-on,” he said. “Glen Kirkwood, collision repair instructor at the North Campus, interacts well with students and keeps them engaged. He would explain to us students how to do paint and bodywork, but he would not do the work for us. We would have to learn through experience. I think that’s why the program is so successful.”
Coto has been doing vehicle bodywork for 12 years now. He especially likes working as production manager at the Penske collision repair center, which services a wide range of vehicles, from trucks and vans to large 18-wheeler rigs. Kirkwood is proud of the way Coto has applied himself and rapidly advanced.
“What’s really impressive is how Robin has adapted to a different style of bodywork,” he commented. “Our program does not specifically train to do bodywork on larger vehicles like 18-wheelers, which requires working with quite a few different tools and techniques. It shows how our students can excel if they are willing to grow and continue to learn.”
A large percentage of the employees at the Penske collision repair shop are San Jac Certified, having graduated from the San Jacinto College auto collision repair program.
“When possible, I try to hire a San Jac graduate when a new position comes open,” commented Coto. “They are well trained, dedicated, and have enthusiasm. They want to learn new techniques and are eager to keep up with new trends and developments. That’s a good work ethic.”
Coto’s training in auto collision repair has led to other unexpected dividends.
“Some colleagues and I started a used-car sales business,” he said. “We buy cars at auction, I do body repair work and do some body customizing, and we then offer the vehicles for sale. Not long after start-up, the business was turning a profit.”
Graduates of San Jacinto College’s auto collision technology program generally have no problem finding jobs. During the past five years, the job placement rate for graduates has been 90 percent or higher. The pay scale is generally above average compared to other skilled craft jobs. According to the Texas Workforce Commission Texas Cares website, the median annual wage in the Gulf Coast region for auto body technicians is $42,432.
“Considering that a person with only one year of college training can be earning around $42,000 not long after graduation, I think that is very impressive,” commented Eddie Foster, North Campus industrial technology department chair. “That’s as good as some career fields that require four-year college degrees.”
San Jacinto College offers automotive collision repair technology courses and degree options at the North Campus. For more information, please visit sanjac.edu/career/auto-collision-repair.