Are you looking for a career that can generate a potential six-figure income? Do you want a job that’s in high demand and can’t be outsourced? Are you looking for a profession that requires an educational background that’s significantly less expensive than a traditional four-year college degree?
If the answer to any of those questions is yes, you need to investigate the possibility of becoming an automotive technician. If you’re a parent, and becoming an automotive technician is not on your list of career choices for your child, you need to think again.
Officials with the nonprofit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) — the independent group that tests and certifies the competence of auto technicians nationally — note that automotive service and repair has changed dramatically in just the span of a generation. High-tech systems unheard of 30 years ago are now standard equipment on much of the nation’s fleet of vehicles: stability and traction control systems, adaptive cruise control and variable valve timing, just to name a few.
More changes are on the way: hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and electric vehicles are commonplace; hydrogen fuel cell and other alternative fuel vehicles are deployed in municipal fleets around the country; and Internet connections, voice recognition commands and GPS mapping are available in economy to luxury models.
Given the advance of technology and a richly varied automotive industry that offers an array of positions and career paths, the future is bright for talented young persons with math, science, communications and technical skills. And unlike many high-tech careers that require four, six, or even eight years of college, automotive technology careers can begin after just two years of education.
“As an industry, we don’t do a very good job of promoting the occupation, and that is a national problem,” says John Putzier, CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Automobile Dealers Association (GPADA). “Our culture currently thinks that everyone should go to college. We have lost the visibility of what is really a very good profession.”
As with any high profile career, lifelong learning and continuing education is necessary, but the simple fact is, students in automotive technology can get out into the real world sooner – and with less college debt.
“People do have to pay for an education, they also have to buy tools, and these also can be barriers to people entering the field,” adds Putzier. “When they do enter the field, it also takes a lot of time for them to build up to the level of a master technician, which is when they can potentially earn a six-figure income. It takes time and continuing education.”
The great news is that many dealers and automakers offer on-going training for technicians, which they pay for as a part of continuous job training. So once you have entered the field, the education process never stops, especially if you a secure a position at a franchised new vehicle dealer.
There are very good reasons dealers are willing to invest in new automotive technicians. According to figures recently compiled by the GPADA as a part of its annual Economic Impact of Franchised New Vehicle Dealerships on the Pittsburgh Area Economy study, the bulk of dealerships jobs are in the service department. While the average dealership in the Pittsburgh area employs about 64 people, 24 of those work in the service department, while 17 work in sales. The parts and accessories department usually has eight or nine employees, while administration employs about seven people, according to the GPADA.
“In addition, we also have a lot of people in the profession who are reaching retirement age, so that will add to the need as well,” says Putzier. “The development of the Marcellus Shale is also attracting a lot of talented people away from the automotive industry, too. So, there is a shortage of talented automotive technicians here in Western Pennsylvania.”
“I work with dealers from all over the area,” adds Dennis Baglier, president of the GPADA and Baglier Buick GMC Mazda in Butler, “every dealer I talk to has a need for qualified technicians.”
Job growth also looks strong into the foreseeable future nationwide. The U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that the automotive repair and maintenance industry is expected to add 237,500 new jobs and have a 30 percent growth rate through 2020, making technicians one of the top 20 jobs with relatively high median earnings and the potential for significant job openings over the next decade. And with the outsourcing of jobs picking up steam – first manufacturing jobs, now computer programming, customer call-center work, and accounting services all going overseas – it should be comforting to know that automotive service and repair is fairly immune to such moves.
Jobs run the gamut from line technician to service consultant, service director, or store owner. Indeed, many technicians have gone on to own their own automotive dealerships.
There is work in parts, parts distribution and wholesaling; collision repair, painting, and damage estimating; vehicle maintenance, repair, and performance upgrades; and motorsports. There’s also the growing field of high-performance machining and rebuilding.
There is work in technical areas, training, or in management at the corporate level for national franchises, vehicle manufacturers, and private and municipal fleets. There are positions with high schools and community colleges, as well as proprietary schools, as instructors. Still other technicians find themselves moving into sales, marketing, and business management. Countless automotive aftermarket executives got their start turning wrenches, though nowadays the tool of choice is as likely to be a diagnostic computer and monitor.
In fact, so many people have started their careers in the automotive aftermarket as an auto technician that it is viewed as something of a portal career. Top-notch technicians well versed in computer diagnostics and the latest engine performance and driveabilty solutions can and do command top-dollar salaries. Pride in work, technical savvy, and craftsmanship are rewarded.
So how do you get started? With summer just around the corner, it may be a lot easier than you think.
“My advice would be to visit a dealership,” says Putzier. “Many times you can start off while you’re still in school. Dealers are always looking for people to work in the detailing shop or to move cars on the lot. These are jobs that you can take without any training, but it also exposes you to the industry, its culture and the people.
“And once you demonstrate a strong work ethic and good work habits, many dealerships will bring you under their wing. Many dealerships like to grow their own technicians, if they see someone who is a solid and capable young person.”
Once you enter the profession, you should also prepare for a lot of continuing education.
“Plan on learning continuously,” advises Karl Watson, associate professor and coordinator of the MOPAR CAP program at the Community College of Allegheny County. “Cars continuously change every year and every day. I have been in this business 45 years, and I’m still learning.”