America needs mechanics; here’s where to apply

Lauren Fix (“Yes, that’s my real name”) has been taking apart cars since she was 10 years old. It started when she watched her father, a former General Motors engineer who went on to create the stainless steel brake, work on cars in their garage.

“I’d go, ‘What are you doing?'” remembers Fix. “He never said, ‘Go away’ … he’d say, ‘Want to help?'”

She did. Since then, Fix has wracked up a wealth of experience. “I’m an ASE certified technician. I don’t wrench on cars, but I’ve taken the test. But I’m also an engineer, mechanical engineer. I’ve designed and developed braking and suspension components. I’ve worked on cars, restored cars, my whole life.”

In 1989, she and her husband, Paul Fix, founded Classic Tube, which prototypes and fabricates pre-bent automotive tubing in its upstate New York factory.

While the auto repair field has certainly changed since Fix was coming up, she says it offers greater opportunity than ever. Here she tells Align where to look — and what employers are looking for.

Dealer’s choice

“If I were going to be a mechanic today, I would look to work at a dealer,” Fix tells Align. “Typically, the pay is better.”

To do so, you’ll probably need certification from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. ASE certification requires at least two years of work in the certification area and successful completion of the relevant ASE tests.

“The ASE tests are great. They’re matter-of-fact; they don’t try to trick you. It’s not an SAT test. It’s literally, do you know what you’re talking about or don’t you? If this happens, what would you do?”

It’s also possible to get a dealer to train you on the job. “It depends on the person,” says Fix. “If you are really good, you don’t mind working on your own car, and you really know this stuff, you could probably get hired by a dealer. They’ll pay for your training because they need good people that they can count on. It’s sort of like the [military] service, you know, you give us four, we’ll give you four. In this case, it would probably be less than two years of training. You start with the basic stuff. You’re going to be doing oil changes. And then, you work your way up.”

With experience comes compensation. “You can make $100 ,000 a year easily if you know your stuff, you’re really good and efficient and effective, and you’re working at a high-end brand [like] Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi.”

Gamers especially might enjoy the work, says Fix, as much of auto repair today involves navigating a vehicle’s on-board diagnostics system, sometimes even with VR technology. “These are all very much computer-oriented jobs,” says Fix. “It really does require someone who can think like [a gamer].”

Women wanted

Those who prefer to deal with people should consider becoming a service writer or a parts manager. Women are especially in demand for these jobs and can often get signing bonuses. “Typically, [a customer walking into a dealership] will go to the female because they think a guy’s going to try and upsell them on a bunch of stuff they don’t want.”

And upselling is part of the job, although best accomplished with a delicate touch. “It’s upselling, not hard selling,” says Fix. “It’s looking at the service schedule on the computer [and saying,] ‘Hey, listen, when’s the last time you had your oil changed? It looks like you haven’t been here in a while. We can rotate your tires … check your brakes. Let us do your 60,000 mile inspection.”

Four types of people the industry loves to hire

According to Fix, there are four categories of potential employees the automotive repair industry finds particularly attractive:

1. High school graduates eager to start a career

“[Let’s say you’re] high school educated, not great at taking tests, don’t want to go to college, not interested in the expense. ‘I want a job now. I want to start making money today.’

Perfect. Work in the auto industry. We’d love to have you.”

2. Military veterans

“You return from the service. Maybe you have some skills [you’ve learned]. Maybe you just can’t find a job.

Don’t you worry, there’ll be a dealer who will hire you in a minute. They love military veterans because they understand procedure, they understand hierarchy, and they can follow directions.”

3. Low-level, nonviolent offenders

“These are people who did stupid things,” says Fix. “They learned their lesson.” If you’re an ex-convict committed to making a fresh start, you may find the industry particularly welcoming.

Vehicles for Change, for example, is a Maryland-based non-profit that provides automobiles for families in need. It also runs Full Circle, a job training program designed to help men and women transition from prison to lives as skilled auto mechanics. “[They become] responsible citizens,” says Fix. “Many of them go on to create their own shops,” says Fix, and end up “hiring people that they know they can trust.”

4. Native Spanish speakers

“Whether you like it or not,” says Fix, “there are people strolling across the border, and there are a lot of Spanish-speaking people, and there’s a lot of Spanish-speaking people that would like to have their cars repaired. … They typically keep their cars a lot longer.

So, those people also need to communicate with other people that speak the same language. And they prefer that common conversation that I can speak Spanish to you. I’m Latino, you’re Latino.”

“It doesn’t matter what my opinion is [on the border crisis]. The fact is they’re here. We’d rather have them [be] productive citizens paying taxes than living off the government dole.”

Work with your hands? You’re in demand

“If you’re in any of those categories or you know someone that is, don’t think, ‘I got nothing,'” counsels Fix.

“No. You have something. There is an opportunity for you. It gives you a good education on the job, with a paycheck. You get all kinds of benefits.

And [some of the] dealer groups really appreciate and support their employees. And it can lead to other opportunities.

You could even get a job on the [assembly] line. You don’t have to have an education. If you want to work at a production line for Honda in St. Mary’s, Ohio, you go there, you apply like everybody else. They need people; everybody’s in need of people who want to work with their hands. You could be into HVAC. You could be into plumbing. You could be into electrical.”

Scholarships and other resources

Finally, Fix advises would-be mechanics to explore the wealth of affordable or even cost-free training options. The non-profit TechForce Foundation awards millions in grants each year for technicians beginning or furthering their careers. It also offers scholarships in partnership with Ford.

Automotive Scholarships is another resource Fix recommends, as is the Specialty Equipment Market Association.

Above all, don’t underestimate the opportunities that are out there for someone who wants to work with cars.

“If you look at the Dow Jones, half of the Dow is impacted by the auto industry. You’re not just talking the car or the dealership. You’re talking about, like, tires; oil; battery companies; Nvidia, which does a lot of the technology; all of that builds in. And so, the impact is quite bigger than people realize.”

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