BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Several teams of high school students put their car repair skills to the test in Bloomfield last weekend, earning $30,000 in scholarships and new tool sets for their schools.

Universal Technical Institute-Bloomfield (UTI) hosted its annual Top Tech Challenge on Feb. 8, inviting teens from across the New Jersey/New York metropolitan area to its Essex County campus.

More than 100 eager students from 37 schools challenged themselves with a series of written and hands-on tests about vehicle parts, brakes, diagnostics and electrical systems.

The top six, two-person teams received UTI scholarships ranging from 25 to 100 percent of tuition costs. The winning teams also received Snap-On tool sets for their high schools valued at $2,365.

"These students have really applied themselves to their passion, and their knowledge and skills reflect this," UTI-Bloomfield Campus President Steve McElfresh said.

"Unfortunately, high schoolers pursuing these careers often do not enjoy the same level of institutional and social support compared to traditional four-year colleges," McElfresh said. "We take great pride in programs like the Top Tech Challenge, without which a lucrative, fulfilling career in auto tech might not have been possible for some students."

UTI spokespeople said outdated perceptions of what it means to be an automotive or diesel technician can hold young people back from pursuing careers in field, while employers in the New York/New Jersey area -- and across the nation -- are facing critical skilled labor shortages.

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According to projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be, on average, more than 120,000 job openings in the automotive, diesel and collision repair industries each year from 2016 through 2026.

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