New School To Fill A Yawning Service Gap

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — For John Taratuta, the wheels of education are always turning.

"We can teach just about anything on wheels," he says.

The owner of Taratuta Driving School and Taratuta Truck Driving School is taking a synergistic approach to his latest foray into career-oriented education when he opens the doors to the Diesel Mechanics School this fall.

"I don't claim to be a diesel mechanic, but everyone has a need for them at times," Taratuta said. "Everything you touch has been delivered by a truck, but you also need a guy back there to keep the trucks running."

Taratuta enlisted the help of Tom Settle as the lead instructor of the Diesel Mechanics School. Settle has 11 years experience as a professional instructor of diesel technologies in the U.S. Navy.

"What we're interested in is not so much specific applications, but we want our graduates to think like a mechanic or think like a truck driver by changing how they perceive things pertaining to the industry," Taratuta said. "We'll teach them problem-solving with an approach of how a driver or mechanic would view it.

"We want them to think like a driver or a mechanic so their license is not just a license, but something they take pride in."

Taratuta said that the Diesel Mechanics School is filling a void in West Michigan.

"It's necessary," Taratuta said. "There are dozens of dealerships and thousands of mechanics, but no place to get the training.

"The diesel is the engine of the future. One-third of the cars in Europe are diesel-powered and some of them can get 100 miles per gallon. Historically, the diesel engine is more efficient than gas. With long-term fuel prices increasing, it is definitely the wave of the future, and with it there will be a need for people to service those engines.

"The big rigs are only about 20 percent of diesel market," Taratuta added. "There are a lot of other applications behind the scenes. Most hospitals have a diesel generator in the back which may never run, which is good. But it is there and must be serviced and able to be kicked on at the flip of a switch. With micro electronics and the difficulties they are having in California nowadays, it makes it even more important."

Taratuta said he discovered a need for qualified mechanics based on personal experience.

"We've had our vehicles from our truck driving school serviced by the dealership several times and have not been satisfied with the service that was offered," he said.

"The things that they were doing incorrectly, as far as service goes, is almost the equivalent of driving on the wrong side of the road.

"There is a need for proper training in the area."

Taratuta said the average mechanic spends approximately $30,000 on tools. The investment into training should be commensurate. The Diesel Mechanics program, which lasts six months, will cost students approximately $5,000.

"It's a good investment into a career," he said.

Taratuta has run the Taratuta Truck Driving School for the past three years. The Diesel Mechanics School will open its doors this fall.

"The two are very compatible," he said. "The same people who need truck drivers need diesel mechanics. There are also marine applications, mechanical, agricultural and other power applications."

The Taratuta Truck Driving School and Diesel Mechanics School are located in the same building at 1517 10 Mile NW near the corner of 10 Mile and Alpine.

"What we're trying to do is achieve a synergy where one supports the other. This will enable us to create more value," Taratuta said.

"We're making use of the space in a way that provides value. This is a good value not only to the Grand Rapids community but all of West Michigan.

"Our costs are about 20 percent lower than competitors with training fees, and that reflects on the costs of sharing prices."

Classes, which emphasize the basics of diesel engine technology, will be comprised of approximately 75 percent hands-on application and 25 percent theory, according to Taratuta. The six-month certification program covers 1,000 hours of training.

"It's for someone looking for a career change and (who enjoys) doing that type of work," Taratuta said. "That's a key for success.

"There are more and more ads for mechanics, because it runs kind of recession contrary."

The diesel mechanics school is classified as proprietary and falls within federal guidelines for students to qualify for federal aid.

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