Bedford County schools partner with Advance Auto Parts to provide vocational education

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BEDFORD, Va. (WDBJ7) When Hailey Mackey told her friends she wanted to work on cars, she didn't get a very warm response.

"Everybody says that girls can't do this, because it's a guy job," said Mackey, a junior at Liberty High School.

She's proving those people wrong with the education she's getting at Bedford Science and Technology Center.

Mackey is part of the automotive technology program, which teaches the basics of inspecting, testing, and fixing vehicles.

It's a job their instructor, Mark Mathia, believes they can find a lot of success with.

"We ask students to make a decision for the rest of their life pretty early on in the process," Mathia told WDBJ7.

To help students see past the classroom and view automotive technology as a career, Bedford County schools have brought in a corporate partner.

Advance Auto Parts sends employees, or team members, into the classroom to provide mentoring and instruction.

"It's just a natural fit for us to start working with the students here," said Shannon Martin, senior manager of operations support for Advance Auto Parts' Roanoke campus.

The partnership started several years ago and has grown to include internships with Advance Auto Parts.

Company leaders view the relationship as a way to grow local talent. They've already hired two students directly from Bedford County schools.

"These students bring us so much value," Martin explained. "Once we get them into the program and they start training, they are graduating twice as fast as someone who doesn't have automotive knowledge."

Bedford County is currently the only school system in the country to partner with Advance Auto Parts, but company leaders are looking to expand the program because of the success they've found here.

"It's really a win-win," said Martin.

Giving Advance Auto a pipeline to new employees and students a strong connection to a viable career.