High school students often have limited options as graduation looms. While many are expected to go on to college, for some, that's not necessarily the best choice.

Bike shop owner Berri Michel was having trouble finding good employees and mechanics for her bike shop and wondered why there was no education outlet for students interested in the field. She had an innovative idea. She wanted to offer students the chance to learn bike mechanics, while picking up some career-building skills they would need to excel in any workplace.

"We envisioned it being similar to how the auto industry spearheaded the creation of high school auto shop programs back in the 1930s," Michel says. "So we set out to create new generations passionate and knowledgeable about bikes. And it’s such a fun way to learn!"

Her Bicycle Trip bike shop in Santa Cruz, California, was the start of a grassroots program in 2007 that evolved into Project Bike Tech.

The program hopes to help fill the growing demand for bicycle technicians. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the demand for bicycle repair jobs is expected to grow by nearly 30 percent by 2026.

Learning more than bicycles

Project Bike Tech teacher and students Long-time instructor Steve Hess works with students. (Photo: Project Bike Tech)

Originally, the curriculum — which is a for-credit high school class — offered basics in bike mechanics. But the course was eventually expanded to include job prep skills such as resume writing, interviewing techniques and team building.

Students learn the skills necessary to work as a professional bicycle mechanic, but they're also introduced to other cycling industry careers including fabrication, marketing, sales and graphic art.

The four-semester, two-year class is taught in eight schools throughout California with three schools in Colorado and Minnesota on board to start the program soon. Organizers are also looking to expand to other locations across the country. The class is typically taught in conjunction with a local bike shop and is held in dedicated classrooms in schools.

"We feel that this is important for the success of the program so that students can easily access the workshop and other students, parents, teachers and faculty can visit and benefit from the room as well," Project Bike Tech's Executive Director Mercedes Ross tells MNN.

Project Bike Tech is designed to have graduates be college- or career-ready upon leaving the class.

"We have a very diverse student population and so we have designed our program so that our students receive a balanced education that prepares them for whichever pathway they choose," says Ross. "We have had students refer to our class as 'Life Tech' due to the many life skills they learn in our classrooms."

A wide range of career opportunities

Project Bike Tech teacher and students Kirk Bernhardt works with Project Bike Tech students in a classroom. (Photo: Project Bike Tech)

At the end of the program, students earn two certifications: a CTE (career and technical education) certificate and certification as an entry level bike mechanic/assembler endorsed by members of the bicycle industry.

Since the program's inception, more than 3,000 students have been introduced to the bicycle industry as a career.

"We have students who go on to work in bike shops, but we also have students who discover that they love working with their hands and so they pursue other trade careers like auto mechanics, tool manufacturing and construction," says Ross.

"Because of our program, students are exposed to careers and opportunities that they might not have considered before they picked up a wrench. There are also students who discover that they love the engineering and design of bikes and want to pursue a college degree so they can work to design the future of bikes. Some of these students may not have considered a college education. Bike mechanic education opens the door to a world of opportunities, and we try to show our students those possibilities."

Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.

Learning how to fix bicycles is opening new career paths for teens
Project Bike Tech offers students diverse skills and options when they leave high school.