A Career Primer for an Auto Mechanic
For the most part, the majority of us have no earthly idea what we are looking at when we pop the hood of our chosen vehicle. The mass of wires and parts do not make sense to the layperson, however the puzzle under the hood can be quickly assembled by a qualified auto mechanic to put things in proper working order. This understanding is not something an auto mechanic is born with; rather, the knowledge auto mechanics acquired times time and diligence to master. Bridging this chasm is where higher education comes into play.
We have all experienced the evolution of motor vehicles over the last few decades. Specific to the auto mechanic trade, vehicles have morphed from a series of mechanical parts to technology-centric machine. Auto mechanics of today leverage high-tech computers and precise diagnostic devices to optimize an automobile’s systems. An auto mechanic of today has become a unique blend of a professional who understands the complex interworking of an automobile while constantly interfacing with technology to solve problems. Once a problem is identified by an auto mechanic they must spend the necessary time and resources to correct the underlying issues in order to optimize the overall health of the automobile.
What Does an Auto Mechanic Do?
Although it may seem simple enough to say that an auto mechanic is responsible for the inspection, repair and maintenance of motor vehicles, this is not entirely accurate. A professional auto mechanic possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of automotive parts as well as a working understanding of how they work with one another. With more and more vehicles being built as a computer on wheels, an auto mechanic needs to be able to properly use a variety of diagnostic software. The automotive software provides a root cause analysis to an auto mechanic or automotive technician to provide a path to solve the underlying issues.
Automotive Generalists versus Specializations
Auto mechanics may need to learn to work on electric vehicles, hybrid automobiles, and/or gasoline-powered vehicles as part of their trade. Being a generalist allows an auto mechanic to work on a wide variety of makes and models while specialists may focus on a particular manufacturer or vehicles from a particular geographic region. A mechanic that is a generalist, will not only work on a variety of makes, models trucks, cars, or commercial vehicles but also complete a variety of tasks as part of the repair process. Auto mechanics who become generalists, they tend to be a jack-of-all-trades learning to perform a host of services from mechanical to technical and everything in between. Automotive specialists, on the other hand, work to become experts in a particular automotive discipline. For example, it is not uncommon for auto mechanics at larger shops to specialize in any of the following: transmissions, hydraulic pumps, rebuilding mechanical parts, electrical parts, fuel pumps, tuning up a vehicle, air conditioning, brakes, suspension systems, and alignment.
According to studies that have been performed by The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average automotive service technician made roughly $38,000 last year with the top ten percent averaged $63,000 annually. It is incumbent upon you to perform additional research regarding the median income and range of overall compensation in your state or municipality as part of your due diligence for your career. Information on employment, wages, geographic trends, location quotients, and growth trends can be found here.
Expected Job Growth
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics expects for there to be a five percent rate growth for the auto mechanic profession through 2024 which can vary from state to state. For example, Arizona and Alaska are expected to receive 17 percent and 7 percent growth rates within the auto mechanic trade, respectively. Further, California is expecting a 20 percent surge in job openings which is countered by a relatively flat growth curve in Florida.
What Steps Are Needed to Become an Auto Mechanic?
In addition to the necessary talent and affinity for working on automobiles, there are certain steps that need to be taken to ensure a clear path towards a successful career as an automotive mechanic. Let's take a closer look at the most important five.
- Do Your Research
Being able to work on vehicles provides you with a certain career path, but doing your homework allows you to solidify this course of action. Be sure to look into all of the possibilities within the field from a local independent auto shop to a large dealership and everything in between. Talking to professionals in an effort to gather information will help paint a realistic picture of reality making the ensuing steps much more productive.
- Completion of Formal Training
After performing your in-depth vocational research, you will need to think about a training program. Training can be as informal as learning from a senior auto mechanic by watching them perform a variety of tasks to a formal training program replete with coursework, guidance, and detailed instruction. That being said, an employer is far more likely to hire an auto mechanic that takes the time and effort to complete a post-secondary program over other candidates. It is important to know that certain trades within the auto mechanic vocation require you to obtain secondary education while some also require an additional certification. If you are in need of a certificate you may only need to go to school for six months to a year in order to earn the necessary certificate. On the other hand, if you have chosen a line of work that requires an associate's degree or bachelor’s degree, you will need to attend school for two to four years depending on the coursework and specialization desired. In other words, the more education and quality training you possess, the better equipped you will be to secure a long-term position of your choosing.
- On The Job Training (OJT)
Diving into your career of choice with both feet through on the job training will make a world of difference. Most employers require on the job training after obtaining a college degree in auto mechanics from an accredited college or higher education institution. As a disclosed barrier to entry, the on the job training can only happen after earning a degree or certification blending your academic work with the pragmatic experience of hands-on automotive work. The type of training and length of the training program will depend on the employer and level of specialization you seek.
- Receive Your Certification
The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is seen as the gold standard for an auto mechanic certification. There are a variety of certification concentrations to choose from including: auto maintenance and light repair, automobile and light truck, collision repair and refinishing, damage analysis and estimating, automobile service consultant, truck equipment, alternative fuels, transit bus, advanced engine performance, electronic diesel engine performance specialist, light duty hybrid/electric vehicle, engine machinist, parts specialist, school bus, medium/heavy truck, and undercar specialist.
- Never Stop Learning
Please understand: the learning process does not end once you're employed, it continues throughout your career. In order to keep up with the latest industry trends, mechanical advances, and automotive techniques you will need to continue to learn. While hands-on training is helpful, your employer may ask you to take an advanced course or obtain an additional certification to keep on top of the latest industry innovations.
What Type of Auto Mechanic Schools Exist?
A mechanic school is a stand-alone institution that is designed with one objective in mind: teaching prospective mechanics how to ply their trade. A certificate or diploma can be earned from a mechanic school through a mixture of classroom work and hands-on courses.
Vocational Institutions or Trade School
These institutions are not strictly dedicated to auto mechanics, but offer those who choose to work in the field a chance to receive specialized education. Students can enroll while attending high school and take either a general or specialized mechanic course through the time they have earned a diploma or certificate.
A community college is the school of choice for those who seek an associate's degree. Community college programs are designed to help students earn their degree as automotive mechanic in two years. Some community college programs do an excellent job of preparing students for a defined track towards earning a bachelor's degree, while other programs leverage the applied associate route to jump directly into the workforce as soon as they have graduated.
Necessary Skills for Auto Mechanics
An auto mechanic will need to have a strong attention to detail, practice excellent customer service techniques, and know how to troubleshoot any issue that may come their way. In addition to these skills, great hand/eye coordination and manual dexterity are needed in addition to ample physical strength.
Auto mechanics will continue to be an important trade in the work force of the future. While their job duties may change in the future, the demand for quality work will not deviate. Thus making this an ideal career for those who wish to provide a necessary service and invest in their love of automobiles.