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Danville’s Aaron Brittain switches gears & turns his hobby into a career
As a young electrician, Aaron Brittain was doing well. He had moved from a small shop in the Northeast Kingdom to a bigger, Barre-based company that did larger jobs. But he didn’t like getting up at 4 AM.
“I liked the work, but I didn’t like the lifestyle,” says Aaron, who started electrical work at age 17, and is now 20. “So I decided to explore some other options.”
It turns out, a great option was sitting right in his garage.
“I had rebuilt an older Toyota 4-Runner from the frame up, with a new engine, new paint, everything,” he says. With the encouragement of his parents, who had seen how much he enjoyed tinkering on the truck, he thought he’d try to turn his hobby into a career.
He went to work at a local automotive shop for a year, and confirmed that he liked it. Aaron then figured it was time to go back to school. He talked to a former classmate from Lyndon Institute, who had gone to an automotive school called Universal Technical Institute in Exton, PA, about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia. Aaron was particularly intrigued by the fact that UTI offered specific training in hybrid vehicle certification.
“I asked my buddy about it, he gave me the details, and I discussed it with my parents,” Aaron recalls. “I let it sit for a few months, then did a Zoom interview and a virtual tour, and I decided it was a good fit.”
So, late last August, Aaron left his Danville home and set out for Pennsylvania. Of his three siblings, ranging in age from 21 to 14, Aaron is the first to really move away from home. “My older brother used to live in Burlington when he went to school for welding, but he came home pretty often. I’m eight hours away, so this is true living on my own. I’m having to figure out all the ‘adulting’ things, like making food and paying bills,” he says.
Fortunately, Aaron’s college bills were reduced through a combination of scholarships, grants and financial aid from VSAC, HireAbility Vermont and the State of Vermont. Aaron’s mom had worked with Marti Kingsley, an Outreach Counselor with VSAC, when his older brother decided to go to school for welding. “Marti really helped my older brother, so when I decided to go to school, my mom contacted her again,” Aaron says.
In addition, VSAC, the Vermont Department of Education and federal grants have helped with uniforms, school supplies and a computer. HireAbility has reimbursed Aaron for nine months of rent.
“Everyone’s been a big help to make this happen,” Aaron says. “By the time I’m done here, I won’t owe nearly the amount many others do. Without help, it would have been doable, but it would have been a little tricky. Money was tight,” Aaron says, after his parents’ business – a dog-boarding kennel – struggled to get through COVID.
Especially with the grants and scholarships, Aaron says the program offers a good value, as well as a lot of hands-on learning. During each 3-week course, students dismantle, study and reassemble a different automotive system – from engines, to hydraulics, to HVAC, to hybrid systems – to see how everything works.
Aaron, who learned a lot about mechanics as a teenager by taking things apart and putting them back together, says he really enjoyed the course on transmissions, since that was a system he “hadn’t torn apart yet.” He’s also noticed that he has a strong interest in diesel engines and heavy equipment. And when he went through the electrical course a few months ago, he realized how much overlap there was between his former training and the automotive field. “That got me really excited, of course, because of my electrical background,” he notes.
After he graduates in 2024, Aaron will work in Vermont for a year, as a condition of one of his grants; perhaps he’ll pick up with the Danville-based shop he worked at before leaving for school. Long-term, he likes the idea of being a mobile technician who can meet trucks at the roadside for emergency repairs or travel to different job sites to work on heavy equipment. “I like traveling to new places, and that type of work would allow me to combine electrical and automotive,” he says.
While electrical work wasn’t the best fit as a full-time career, Aaron doesn’t want to give up on it entirely. “I mean, I already have all the tools,” he laughs. Plus, he describes himself as a jack-of-all-trades. “I’ve done a little bit of welding, some minor plumbing, and of course electrical work. My parents call me their handyman,” he says. He notes that he has helped his parents redo the family home, including demolition, framing, siding and roofing. He also assembled a metal building in the middle of winter for the family business, where all he had was a set of mediocre instructions.
Given Aaron’s technical abilities, it’s not surprising that when he comes home from school, his parents have a list for him. “The hot tub isn’t working, the ceiling light is flickering, and, oh yeah, the ‘check engine’ light is on in the car. Or it’s ‘Hey, I need you to pull the 4X4 out of the snow or mud with your vehicle,’” he laughs. For Aaron, there’s never a day where he isn’t helping out his family and friends. “I can’t just sit and do nothing. I have to be doing something, whether it’s just washing vehicles, helping other friends with their vehicles, or helping out around the house. I’m always a busy man.”
For guidance on college and career planning and help with financial aid from VSAC, go to vsac.org/financialaid and check out our online workshops. To find out about our programs for adult students, go to vsac.org/adultlearners. You can also call 800-642-3177, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and visit online at firstname.lastname@example.org.