Vehicles for Change is changing lives with technological training program

03/20/2023| Maggie Whitescarver

Vehicles for Change is changing lives with technological training program

03/20/2023 | Maggie Whitescarver

Vehicles for Change  may be an organization known for their work in providing vehicles to families in distress, but the nonprofit is utilizing new technology to make an even greater impact.

Since 2015, Vehicles for Change has been offering its Full Circle Auto Repair and Training Center program , which is designed to provide mechanic training to people with various employment obstacles, many of whom were recently incarcerated and trying to find a job to get back on track. With 210 people already trained and placed in jobs, the program has shown great success. This year’s goal is to train 120 more individuals.

“The beauty is that there are tens of thousands of jobs available for individuals,” said Martin Schwartz, president of Vehicles for Change. “It’s a career where you can make up to $100,000 by having the training and having transportation to get there.”

The Full Circle program has a mission to set their trainees up for long-term success—touting a 100% placement rate and an 85-90% completion rate. Beyond just helping with career establishment, the program is helping individuals better their lives and make a living wage, proudly demonstrating a less than 5% recidivism rate.

A family receiving a car from Vehicles for Change

“It's unbelievable to have this impact on families,” said Schwartz. “After they’ve been in our program for three to four weeks, when they start to realize ‘this is the real deal’… they say, ‘I have hope now, I have a real chance.’ And when our graduates come back and say, ‘I’m making $60,000 a year,’ you start to see the excitement on our trainees’ faces.”

What may be just as impressive as the impact of the program is the way they are doing it. Full Circle utilizes virtual reality (VR) to train people on car maintenance and auto repair, and Schwartz says the National Automobile Dealers Association has praised the organization and its technique as “the most innovative auto technician training program in America.”

The interactive VR program consists of a virtual garage equipped with all the tools needed to perform the repairs, including step-by-step instructions and different phases of training.

In the first phase, the trainee watches how a specific maintenance task is done. Then the trainee gets hands-on experience through the help of VR as they are walked through the process with steps to follow and specific tools highlighted through the viewfinder. The last phase is for trainees to perform the task on their own, without any guidance, where they will be given feedback and a chance to redo the task, and to correct any mistakes.

Men repairing a car

The use of VR also has an economic impact by reducing training time. The U.S. Air Force has used similar technology, reducing its hands-on training by 50-75%.

“We can put an entry level VR automotive training program in any high school, community college, prison, or workforce training program in Maryland for less than 1/10th of the cost that it would be to set up a hands-on training program,” said Schwartz.

And that’s exactly what Vehicles for Change plans to do. With training program locations in Halethorpe, Hyattsville, and Salisbury, the organization hopes to expand the program to Western Maryland and more than 20 partner sites this year.

“Vehicles for Change is not some kind of miracle maker, it's common sense,” said Schwartz. “If we can find a way to do this more across the board, we can reduce recidivism and increase the economic basis across the state.”

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