Walter Alley is one of the rare, lucky individuals who was able to combine two loves into one career. Alley, a recipient of a 1991 Distinguished Service Citation from the Automotive Hall of Fame, parlayed his fondness for teaching and his love for the automobile into a stellar career in which he became one of the automotive industry’s top training experts. Alley, the retired director of training for Midas International Corp., is also well known for his authoring of several important textbooks in the automotive industry. He wrote the service section of Walter V. Alley, Jr. Suspension and Steering, a textbook that was published by the American Technical Society and has been used for 25 years by most automotive schools. Alley penned Disc and Drum Brake Service, another popular textbook, and he has also authored several service manuals for AP AA, Sears and others. Not a shabby list of accomplishments for a person who started his post-college career as a teacher of industrial education in a high school. “I really enjoyed working with high school kids,” Alley said. “But my break came when a friend of mine I worked with at the high school was hired by the GM Institute. About two years after he got there, he called and asked if I’d like to join him there, in the product service department. I told him, ‘Boy, would I ever.’ And that was my entry into the automotive industry.”
That career would span almost four decades, and it would encompass all levels of educational training, including high school, college, industry and trade associations. Besides the GM Institute, his career would include stops at Ferris State College, where he worked in the John Bean Frame, Suspension and Brake Training Program for major tire companies; at Ammco Tool, where he was that company’s first-ever director of training; and finally, at Midas, where he became that company’s first training director, too.
While at Midas, he designed and operated the Midas Institute of Technology and developed an individualized training system, as well as a training program on videocassette. And he enjoyed every minute of it. “I loved the automobile and I also loved talking about it,” Alley said. ”I’m a car person, and I recognized quickly that the chance to talk about cars is a great way to spend a life.”
Obviously, Alley has seen many changes during the course of his 39-year career, the most evident being the background young mechanics have when they reach him. “They simply don ‘t have as much background as they used to,” he said. “The environment in which young people are raised today doesn’t encourage kids to take things apart and put them together again. It doesn’t even encourage repair. This is a disposable society, and when something is broke, instead of fixing it, we throw it away.” That gnaws at Alley, a self-confessed do-it-yourselfer who “hates to throw things away. You should see my basement,” he said, laughing. “It’s full of items that I just won’t throw away because I know they can be fixed.”
Alley was a pioneer in the use of video training, a process that allows the viewer to interact with the trainer of video and train at his or her own pace. “When I used that technique,” he said, “I would stop, ask a question, and give the viewer some choices. Then, the viewer would make a choice, and I’d tell the viewer which was right. “This is a good way to train people,” he said, “because it gives us a firm knowledge base for our technicians.” Alley has been a strong proponent of providing proper training in community colleges. Today, more than 13 community colleges have conducted automotive courses sponsored by Midas, and Alley himself has been an active member of the first ASIA Educational Committee, the National Association of College Automotive Teachers, the Technical Training Council sponsored by MEMA, and is now a board member of the Automotive Training Manager’s Council. Additionally, he planned and is supporting the Lake County Community College automotive program in Grayslake, Illinois.
One of the reasons Alley is so committed to educating young people for automotive careers is that he believes the industry is a wonderful place to be. “Nothing’s different than when I entered,” Alley said. “There are opportunities aplenty in this field. If you like automobiles and don’t mind working hard, you can be a success in this industry. “I’ve had a few people who put up with me and pushed me along the way during my career,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to be in this industry.” The reverse is also true.