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Passion for Cars Leads to Rewarding Corporate Career

Industry Partner Jill Saunders Supports Future Automotive Techs through the SkillsUSA Championships.
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Photo courtesy of Jill Saunders.

Jill Saunders has always loved cars. She grew up in a small farming community of about 2,500 along the Oregon/Idaho border. Her father was a high school automotive instructor in a neighboring town, and he taught Saunders at home what he taught his automotive students at school. During high school, Saunders worked on cars in the evenings and on weekends and remembers drag racing at a local track for enjoyment.

After graduation, Saunders decided to go to Weber State University in Ogden, Utah where she went through the Toyota T-TEN two-year automotive technician program and earned her Associate of Applied Science Degree in Automotive Technology. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I liked working on cars and learning about them,” she says. “At T-TEN, students go through very extensive training, bumper to bumper on a vehicle, so that when they graduate, they can work as a technician in a Toyota or Lexus dealer.”

Saunders set a goal to work for Toyota after college and she went on to get her bachelor’s degree at Weber State in Automotive Service Technology and Technical Sales. Between her junior and senior year, she landed a summer internship with Toyota’s corporate office. As fate would have it, at the beginning of her senior year, she received a job offer from them.

Saunders works at the Toyota headquarters in Plano, Texas that serves dealers all over North America, Canada and Mexico to track and resolving quality issues. They also design and build continuously better cars for the future. Saunders started at Toyota as a trainee in their product quality and service support area and has continued to work for Toyota in various capacities since, working on a hotline to help techs diagnose and fix vehicle problems over the phone, helping to support repair manual authoring and working on software for a diagnostic tool that helps technicians talk to the various computers within a car. She currently is a supervisor of Service Information.

Saunders first learned about the SkillsUSA Championships in 2011 when she joined the technical committee for the Automotive Service Technology competition and the Automotive Maintenance and Light Repair competition. Saunders says that serving on the SkillsUSA technical committee is energizing for her. “The work for SkillsUSA is an extracurricular activity for me because I still have my eight-hour-a-day job with Toyota. But, once I get there and see the excitement of the students and the growth that’s happening, it gives me that pep in my step realizing that I’m making a difference in someone’s life and helping to give them a career path forward.”

When asked about Toyota’s return on investment (ROI) for supporting SkillsUSA, Saunders says, “We don’t necessarily track the ROI. It’s kind of in our DNA to support the competitions. We feel like it’s the right thing to do. We believe that these students are our future, whether they’re technicians that will work on Toyota and Lexus vehicles or become engineers working at our corporate office, that’s really our ROI. When we are interviewing someone who has SkillsUSA on their resume, it brings them to the top of the pile because it shows that they have gone above and beyond. For every student who is represented at the national level, there could be hundreds of talented students back home that didn’t make it to the national competition. We encourage our regions to get their dealers involved in SkillsUSA at the local and state levels.”

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