Even though most people in Vietnam don’t have garages, cars are coming off the dealerships faster than you can say VROOM!

Driving in Vietnam. Photo credit: Bao Nguyen.
Driving in Vietnam. Photo credit: Bao Nguyen.

In the past few years, economic development has been rapid, the young population has gotten increasingly wealthy, and cars have become the new status symbol – owners often keep their cars right inside the house.

Aided by cuts to import car taxes (which were as high as 80 percent), cars are more affordable and sales have increased from around 14,000 a decade ago to nearly 120,000 in 2008. All these vehicles need looking after and, as a result, the automobile service industry is booming. Vietnam needs well-trained workers in this sector and one of the partnerships which it is looking to forge is with Shoreline Community College (SCC), whose Professional Automotive Training Center (PATC) is world-class.

“We offer one of the better, if not the best, automotive programs in the country,” said SCC’s President Lee Lambert, who visited Vietnam on a trade mission in September along with Gov. Chris Gregoire and a delegation of nearly 100 members.

A road in Vietnam. Photo credit: Bao Nguyen.
A road in Vietnam. Photo credit: Bao Nguyen.

The mission’s primary goal was to promote Washington businesses and agriculture but education took center stage at the Washington State Higher Education Forum held in Hanoi, Vietnam. Representatives from four universities and colleges, including the University of Washington and Shoreline Community College, got a chance to discuss their programs with prospective students and faculty. It was there that Lambert’s confidence in his automotive program was able to garner interest and it’s easy to see why.

SCC’s automotive program is factory-sponsored by Toyota, GM, Honda, and Chrysler which means that students get access to newer cars and equipment for their training. Lambert touts that the PATC has “the newest vehicles out there.” As more electric vehicles hit the market, Lambert is even considering having electrical charging stations installed on campus.

Except for Chrysler, all of the sponsoring manufacturers have plants in Vietnam and account for about 40 percent of cars sold in 2010 (Toyota 28 percent, GM 8 percent, Honda 3 percent). The Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training was understandably excited to learn more and sent two representatives to visit the Shoreline Community College campus after the forum.

Although this collaborative effort is still in its infancy stage, Lambert is thinking ahead and his thoughts point in one direction: self-sufficiency.

In front of Shoreline CC’s Professional Automotive Training Center. Photo credit: Bao Nguyen.
In front of Shoreline CC’s Professional Automotive Training Center. Photo credit: Bao Nguyen.

“I hope that Vietnam runs the program in Vietnam,” Lambert, who is half Korean, explains. “We will help launch and they will continue the work so that the program is customized to the Vietnamese market.”

Rather than having all potential Vietnamese students come to the U.S. to learn, Lambert envisions something similar to a summer institute that train faculty right there in the country.

This concept is not entirely new. In 2005, the University of Missouri started a Vietnam Institute to foster interactions and opportunities in that country. Taking it a step further, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology built a campus in Vietnam where students can experience the same education as their counterparts receive in Australia.

Not to be limited by the scope of the initial conversations, Lambert sees this as a chance to do much more than just training car technicians. He was very impressed with the entrepreneurial spirit and high level of respect from the Vietnamese students he met.

“I see potential for [U.S. education institutions] to do more for Vietnamese students. There are a lot of students who, but for money, could do quite well,” says Lambert.

He recalls an exchange he had in Vietnam with a student who dreams of coming to the U.S. to learn medicine so he could return and set up clinics back in his country.

“America should do anything to support that.”

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