How to Pursue a Career in the Automotive Industry
Are you obsessed with automobiles? Do you enjoy repairing your vehicle whenever an issues pops up? Have you always thought about pursuing a career in the industry? If you responded ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you should strongly consider getting a job as an automotive technician.
Before you commit, recognize that the career certainly isn’t for everybody, even if you would consider yourself a car enthusiast. The job can be physically demanding, and you’d have to be expected to perform some intensive labor. You’re absolutely going to get dirty, and there’s a good chance you’ll go home with your fair share of cuts and bruises. Unfortunately, the career isn’t nearly as lucrative as it was decades ago, especially considering the fact that you can find a mechanic on practically any street corner.
If those ‘negatives’ don’t scare you away, then this career may actually be perfect for you. Of course, you’ll still have to pursue an education, and it will take a lot more than just walking into your local mechanic or dealership and asking for an application. But if you follow our steps below, you’ll be repairing professionally in an engine repair shop before you know it.
If you were fortunate enough, you may have started your automotive education back in high school, taking a variety of shop classes. As Demand Media writes, classes like automotive repair, electronics, computers, mathematics, and English could also be worthwhile courses. Considering the variety of courses schools now offer, a prospective mechanic can certainly find an appropriate class.
However, a high school education isn’t enough in today’s working world. Considering the consistent changing technology, a formal postsecondary education or training program will often be required. Fortunately, these programs aren’t as intensive and time-restricting as your typical college programs, and most students can complete their education within two years.
There are many things you’ll want to consider when you’re picking a postsecondary school, including the location, tuition, specializations, program type, and the amount of hands-on training. You’ll also have to decide whether you want an associate degree, an automotive diploma, an automotive certificate… the options are (practically) endless. If you have any friends in the industry, asking them about their experiences. They may give you some insight as to what program you should be pursuing.
The most popular schools for mechanics (in regards to the number of attending students) are the Universal Technical Institute of California Inc., the Universal Technical Institute of Arizona Inc., and the Nashville Auto Diesel College. When it comes down to it, the decision is ultimately up to you, and you’ll get more of an idea as to which institution you want to attend after touring the schools and talking to students.
If you’re really hungry and motivated to eventually have an important role in the industry, you may want to consider becoming a Master Technician. To earn this title, one much earn all eight certifications from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE). However, this route requires five to six years of secondary education, which is more than twice that of a standard automotive technician. Still, the monetary incentives could make it worthwhile.
Finally, while it may seem like an absolute waste of time, interning is truly an invaluable experience. Sure, you’ll be receiving little (if any) monetary compensation, but you’ll still receive an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the profession. Once your internship is complete, the company may be willing to hire you once you’ve concluded your education (assuming, of course, they liked what they had seen).
You’ll Have to Start With the Basics
You shouldn’t be expecting to restore a racing engine during your first day at work. Instead, you should be anticipating the more tedious, less-intensive tasks. This includes changing, plugging and balancing tires, changing oil and air filters, conducting inspections, changing lights… essentially work you should be able to do in your sleep (although we recommend staying awake during work).
Furthermore, most car companies require their automotive technician to do multiple years (up to five) of on-the-job training, proving that they’re fully qualified and ready for the responsibility. This means pairing up with an experienced mechanic (which is a positive), but on the other side, you’ll be unable to work independently on a project (which is a negative).
Like any industry, you are going to have to be willing to pay your dues. It will eventually pay off, and you’ll find that you’re working on more difficult and rewarding tasks.
Know as Much as You Can
It’s tedious work, but you truly have to learn the specifics of every aspect of a vehicle, no matter how insignificant the part may seem. Refusal to do a repair (or even an acknowledgment that you’re not qualified for a particular task) could put your career in jeopardy.
A thread on Reddit.com asked automotive technicians something they wish they knew when they had entered the field. Among the specific answers regarded knowing more about voltage drop diagnosis, fuel trim diagnosis and evaporative emissions systems. It takes much more than knowing how to change a car’s oil or tires… you have to have a well-rounded understanding of car’s mechanics.
Additionally, there were some non-car related wishes among the responding mechanics on Reddit.com. Many stated that they wish they had limited their laziness earlier in their career, since it never leads to a positive outcome. Others stated that they wished they focused less on money and instead focused on how to better themselves as mechanics.
The only negative of working as an automotive technician is that the work could get relatively repetitive (depending on whether you work for a brand- or vehicle-specific dealership. However, you can take ease in knowing that your services will always be in demand.
As some mechanics have explained, foreign vehicles require significantly more “maintenance” work, while American cars need more “fixing.” One technician even said he’d rather repair 10 Dodge Engines than a Honda or Toyota engine.
If you’re looking to get your foot into the industry, make sure you do it for the right reason. The job isn’t lucrative, as the mean salary for a mechanic is less than $39,000 annually, and the top 10-percent earn less than $60,000 annually. On the other end, the bottom 10-perent make north of $20,000 a year. Luckily, there shouldn’t be a lack of openings, as the industry is expected to add about 1,000 jobs in each state between 2010 and 2020.
You’re should be pursuing this career because you love everything about cars, and nothing makes your happier than bringing a vehicle back to tip-top shape. They say “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” That’s certainly the case with mechanics, and hopefully the tips above confirmed that this is the case for you.
While you’re debating whether to enter the industry, head down to a local mechanic or service department and see if you can talk to some of the staff. Most technicians (assuming they’re not swamped with work) will be happy to answer any of your questions, and if you’re lucky, maybe they’ll let you get some hands-on training.