When Kenneth Erlan was in high school many years ago, nothing excited him more than working on the cars in his automotive class.

“The work stimulated me — even now it still stimulates me,” said Erlan, regional manager for Lithia Motors. “For me, it was never a job. It’s my career. And I want that for students here at North Medford.”

Last Thursday, Lithia Motors announced a new partnership with North Medford High School as five executives and managers toured the school's automotive facility and met the students in the Advanced Auto class.

The goal is to upgrade the school’s current Pathways automotive program and nurture future technicians.

“Education is the core of this business,” Erlan said. “And the Pathways programs have given us a chance to give back and help create jobs in the business.”

Provided through Career and Technical Education programs at North Medford, the automotive class teaches students about mechanics — from how to kill a car’s battery to fixing the transmission, instructor Scott Childers said.

The program has been scraping by with old machines and outdated engines, he said.

“We have that red 1994 Explorer right there, which we took apart and put back together probably 1,000 times already,” he said. “There’s use for it, but you don’t see this technology so much anymore.”

Lithia will bring in new engine models with up-to-date technology, said Bruce Childers, Lithia's vice president of fixed operations, who is no relation to Scott Childers.

“Mechanics is no longer an alternative job,” Bruce Childers said. “Things change, technology changes so quickly that we need trained and quality workers in the shop.”

Lithia's help will also expand the scope of the program, with internships for students to work in local dealerships and learn about the business of auto sales, he said.

“We are very excited to bring this so we can help you figure out at this point of your life what you want to do,” Erlan told the students. “The industry is exciting for me. Let us help you decide whether it’s exciting for you.”

Senior Brandon Rosborg, 17, said he took robotics and wood-working classes his freshmen and sophomore years, but he finally found his passion when he walked into an automotive class last year.

“I found that this is where I want to be — to get my hands dirty and work on the cars,” Rosborg said. “The new cars they’re bringing in will be beneficial for the class because that’s where the technology is going. I’m definitely jumping on it.”

Junior Isaiah Caswell, 16, said automotive class helps him prepare for college for an engineering degree.

“This is great background knowledge to have,” Caswell said. “I started taking auto classes to get the best sense of what I could get out of it because I do want to work in an environment like this. This new program will take it up to another level.”

Medford schools Superintendent Brian Shumate said the partnership will help the program reach its goal of being Automotive Service Excellence certified.

“We want this program to be the leading example for all other CTE programs,” Shumate said.

Lithia Motors will start providing cars to North Medford this year and begin its internship program as early as next spring.

— Reach reporting intern Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@mailtribune.com.