Congratulations to Butler Ford’s David Welch! Earlier this month David was honored with the title Senior Master Technician, a level of skill that takes years and hundreds of hours to studying and testing to achieve. A Ford representative even stopped by to shake David’s hand and give him a cool plaque! David joins Butler’s other three Senior Master Certified Techs. We’re so proud of them all!
It was 2009, the country was in financial crisis, and Lisa Graham had recently been laid off from her job as senior teller at a local branch of Washington Mutual Bank. To top it off, her 2000 Nissan Maxima was broken again. So, Lisa made a command decision; It was time to make a career change and stop paying automotive labor costs. It was time to become a mechanic.
They’re called “service technicians” these days but the training’s the same. Lisa entered the automotive program at Rogue Community College and instantly felt the animosity that accompanies being female in a male-dominated industry. “Some of ’em told me to go to nursing school. Some of ’em told me to go home,’ she says. “But I’m mouthy and I gave it right back to ’em. Then I proved myself.”
Upon graduating, one of Lisa’s first interviews was with Butler’s Service Manager, Curtis Hancock. Curtis says he knew he’d be hiring Lisa but, because she’s so qualified, he wasn’t sure for which position. “She gets along with everybody. She’s the one person who could’ve been a service advisor, work in the parts department, or work on cars.” So he let Lisa choose. She chose the latter. And Curtis is glad. “She has a great attitude and makes for a lighter atmosphere. She lightens the place,” he says. Robert Temple, Butler’s Warranty Administrator chimes in. “She’s super easy to work with. She has a great memory and learns quickly.” Both men agree: “She’s just awesome.”
She’s also a rarity. Joyce Quattrin with the non-profit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) tells us “There is nothing official, but right now less than 1% of all ASE certified professionals [are] women.” Of the four woman in Lisa’s RCC program, only she and one other graduated. Even though she’s now bronze certified in Hyundai and Suzuki service Lisa admits she occasionally picks up a hint of sexism and has been known to avoid telling men what she does so as not to intimidate. But there’s a benefit to being female in the automotive industry, too. “Small hands help get into small [engine] places,” she quips with a smile. And the single mother of two is getting to pass her new skills onto at least one of her kids. “My 13-year old daughter’s not interested,’ she says. “But my 9-year old son, he wants to learn.”
So, how’s the unreliable Nissan Maxima? Lisa grins. “I’m still working on it.”
Are you looking for a new career, one that will weather the economic uncertainty facing so many industries these days? One that requires a multitude of skills, puts you on the cutting edge of technology, and makes you invaluable to most of society? Yes? Have you considered becoming an auto mechanic?
No, seriously. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says demand for technicians is expected to grow 17% by 2020. Combine that with the fact that more and more high school graduates are looking elsewhere for a career and you have a serious shortage of master mechanics coming down the pike. That’d be bad news for drivers but great news for techs who’ll be in high demand. The BLS says techs earned between $35,000 and $60,000 in 2010. The law of supply and demand says those salaries would rise if the predicted tech shortage becomes a reality.
Part of the problem is that many of today’s mechanics grew up working on cars. 40 or 50 years ago anyone with the know-how and the right tools could mess around under the hood. But today’s high school grads may not have had that experience given that the cars they grew up with ran on computer-operated systems, making home-repairs more challenging if not impossible. Another factor is that many schools have had to cut auto shop classes as budgets got tighter.
But the education is out there if you look for it. Butler gets many of its techs from the Automotive Technology Department at Rogue Community College. To a terrifically small degree we even help teach the class. Butler Service Manager Curtis Hancock spends time every semester participating in RCC’s Career Day. He gives tips on finding a job in the automotive industry, sheds light on what life in a professional shop is all about, answers questions, and keeps an eye out for recruits. He’s looking for someone with a passion for the work.
If you think that might be you, you’re in luck. Put on your safety glasses ‘cause the future looks bright.