Harley-Davidson technicians teach auto shop kids at Clearfield High School
Clearfield • A group of high school students stand around a Harley-Davidson motorcycle as technician Richard Helmcke explains the intricacies of the motorcycle. With the letters RIDE FAST tattooed across his knuckles and wrenches included in the tattooed sleeves on his arms, it's apparent that Helmcke loves his work.
Helmcke said he was "raised a military brat and spent a lot of time overseas."
Because he transferred schools often, Helmcke fell behind in academics and eventually lost interest in school and dropped out. Thirteen years ago he decided he wanted a career fixing Harley's. Helmcke obtained his GED, went to technical school and got his start as a motorcycle technician.
Helmcke had an idea: he wanted to share his knowledge about Harleys with high school students. He hoped that by letting young people know about the different career options available he might influence some students into staying in school.
"I never graduated high school. One of my personal goals is to give back to kids to motivate them to stay in school. I had to go the hard way and learn my way of doing it. The kids in this class are very career-minded. If I had someone back in the day who had guided me in a direction I wanted to go, life could have been easier," Helmcke said.
Helmcke shared his idea of working with high school students to Ed Schirner, one of his clients at Golden Spike Harley-Davidson in Ogden. At the time, Helmcke didn't know that Schirner was the automotive technology instructor at Clearfield High School. "He was so excited about the idea, he wanted to start the next day," Helmcke said.
Helmcke shared the idea with the owner of the shop and with the corporate office of Harley-Davidson. They all agreed it was a great idea.
In January and February, Clearfield High School was the first ever to participate in a Harley-Davidson training course. The students are those enrolled in the general service technician 2 automotive technology class.
Students learned the history of Harley-Davidson, different styles of motorcycles and were trained in service and repair as part of a hands-on clinic. Corporate representatives from Harley-Davidson also visited students.
"I tell the kids the industry has changed, you can't leave high school and expect a career in automotive technology, you need a degree. Weber [State University] has a bachelor's degree in automotive technology. They are one of a few colleges in the country that offer that degree," said Schirner.
He said the clinic gives students more career opportunities.
"Harley, being the American icon they are, is a huge opportunity for students. Harley is also interested in appealing to the young market, lots of bikers and mechanics are older guys, so this is handing down Harley-Davidson mechanics and riders to the younger generation," Schirner said.
Dressed in black jeans, wearing goggles, 17-year-old Ashtin Beus, is a Sterling Scholar for trades and technology at Clearfield High School attended the training. As a girl, Beus is a non-traditional student in the automotive technology course.
"My dad influenced me a lot. He died in 2008 from cancer. We spent a lot of time together doing this kind of stuff, it was our thing. After he passed away, it wasn't like I felt like I had to keep doing this sort of thing, but I wanted to," she said.
Beus' goal is to be a body bender.
"I want to paint. I want to do airbrushing and customizing body work," she said, adding she's in Advanced Placement painting.
"These technician's take it very seriously. Harley-Davidson has given me tips about where to go to get a job painting," she said. Beus plans to attend Weber State.
Helmcke is looking forward to doing the program again.
"I'm having fun and these kids are having fun. Winter is a slow time in the industry, so it's a good time to donate my time," Helmcke said. "I'm pretty sure we will do this yearly with Clearfield High, and hopefully we will expand to other schools."