Greg Kinne isn’t letting the knowledge he gained over nearly five decades in the automotive industry go to waste in retirement. The former Machinist is sharing what he knows with a new generation of workers at the Twin Cities School.

Kinne, a longtime member of Local Lodge 737, has signed on as a volunteer at the school, housed in founder Jerry L. Griffis’ detailing shop in Columbia Heights. Together, Kinne and Griffis teach the basics of auto detailing and maintenance to young adults struggling to find their career paths.

The free, 12-week course includes opportunities for paid work in Griffis’ shop. The goal, Kinne said, is to give students enough training to land an entry-level job.

“They’re going to know enough about detailing that a shop could take them on and not have to explain everything to them,” he said. “They’re still going to have to learn some things. But I worked 50 years, and I was still learning things when I was done.”

In the classroom, students follow a curriculum developed by Griffis, a former service manager at the White Bear Lake Superstore dealership. He takes the lead teaching auto detailing, and Kinne takes the lead teaching basic mechanics, like changing the oil, rotating the tires and how parts of the car work together.

While detailing is the program’s focus, an introduction to “the other stuff,” Kinne said, makes students more attractive to potential employers, and may spark an interest in pursuing more training to climb the career ladder.

“You wouldn’t be hired out of our program as a technician, but it might give you the idea that you want to go to school and learn more about it,” Kinne said.

But Kinne and Griffis try to offer students more than just garage knowledge.

The Twin Cities School emphasizes so-called “soft skills” necessary for success on the job, and Griffis and Kinne have tapped into their connections in the local auto industry to help find interested students work. Those connections include Local Lodge 737 and union dealerships.

“Union shops, that’s what I push,” Kinne said. “Jerry was a manager – one of the few African American managers in our area, but he worked in a union shop. And I know he’s sat down with Local 737 and talked about the school with them, and they’ve been supportive.

“The union leads the way in this industry. The union contract prices go out, and if the other dealerships don’t pay similar to them, they don’t get people.”

That’s not to mention the union benefits, which include the defined-benefit pension that allowed Kinne to retire five years ago.

Kinne’s career in the automotive industry began in 1972, when he went to work behind the parts counter at Royal Datsun, a union shop on Grand Avenue in St. Paul. His father was the parts manager, and Kinne thought of the opportunity as a stopgap.

But when the business moved to Maplewood in 1981, Kinne moved with it. By 1989, he’d been promoted to parts manager. He left that job in 1997 and worked briefly for a Luther dealership in Minneapolis before taking a position at the White Bear Lake Superstore as a technician.

“I’d kind of burned out on the parts stuff by then,” Kinne said.

He began working as a Hyundai mechanic in 2000, and by the time he retired in 2016, Kinne was one of just a few certified platinum Hyundai technicians in the Buerkle organization, having completed weeks of trainings and passed several evaluations.

Willingness to put in the time and effort it takes to learn new skills is a big part of what made Kinne successful in his career, and he makes a point of emphasizing as much to students at the Twin Cities School, he said.

“I’m not a teacher but I can certainly share experiences – good and bad – with the young men,” Kinne said.

But Kinne added: “I try not to place my history upon their stuff because it’s different.”

Kinne had a father who steered him into a career field, while most students at the Twin Cities School struggled to complete high school or have had run-ins with law enforcement.

“It’s a short program designed to build an interest in working on cars, maybe a career working on cars and a path to livability,” Kinne said. “But it’s just one step. It’s a small niche in a bigger education outreach effort by the community.”

Others are taking notice of the school’s approach. Ramsey and Hennepin counties have referred students to Griffis’ program, which also includes an aviation module. And the school has developed a partnership with St. Paul’s Ujamaa Place, which offers programming to men 17 to 28 years old. (Twin Cities School is open to both men and women.)

Automotive work might not be for everyone who completes the program, but reaching the finish line comes with a sense of accomplishment, Kinne said, both for students and for their instructors.

“It’s a good challenge, and I do enjoy it,” he said. “There are a lot of hurdles to getting guys interested, but the best is having someone who’s been in the class and running into them.

“One guy came up and thanked me for teaching him how to solder. It’s a simple thing, but he came up and wanted to make a point of thanking me for teaching him that. I had to laugh.”

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Yes, auto technicians are union members! Machinists Local Lodge 737 represents over 900 mechanics, parts personnel, body workers and service technicians at dealerships in the east metro. Click here to find a list of union shops.

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