Wednesday, March 07, 2001
Career Profile: Automotive Technician

By Shannon Kaiser Jewwll
The Chronicle Telegram

Someone recognized a talent in Brian Shaw as a teenager and helped him become an automotive technician, so now he's passing on the favor. Shaw, Service Director at the Abraham Buick-Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in Elyria since 1995, is actively involved in AYES - Automotive Youth Educational Systems - an industry-program that recruits students into the field and helps them get hands-on experience.

Abraham works closely as well with the Lorain County Joint Vocational School, bringing students from there into the shop for first-hand internships. "I was lucky because I had some people help me out", Shaw says, "that's why I'm involved in this. I don't have any kids of my own so I can pass it on through these students." He also recognizes how these programs help the industry. "When I went to college in the mid-1970s, we were told there was going to be a shortage of people to fill technician jobs." Shaw recalls. With the advancement of auto technology — and broader use of computers in cars — the numbers of new technicians hasn't kept pace. "Cars are far more complicated today and there are fewer young people being steered into these careers," Shaw adds.

Industry corporations formed AYES to help ease the shortage and provide training opportunities. "It's one way the industry has been proactively trying to interest young people and show there are opportunities." AYES goes beyond hands-on mechanical training to provide students with mentorship. A technician who has been trained as a mentor works one-on-one with a student.

Abraham has been a part of AYES for three of four years, "... and we've been active in working with the JVS long before this, giving students internships for mechanical experience." That mentorship is a big part of Shaw's life. He was taking an auto shop class at Avon Lake High School (he's a 1975 graduate), "... and I had a neighbor who noticed me and my mechanical aptitude." The neighbor helped him be a high school apprentice mechanic at the former Milad's Chevy Olds dealership in Amherst. Shaw worked there for a year after graduation while he was on the waiting list for Ferris University in Michigan, one of the first to offer an associate degree in automotive technology. Shaw got his associate then continued on for his bachelor's in automotive and heavy equipment technology and management. "You learn about the industry in general and about management." Associate degrees are offered now through Cuyahoga Community College. "While a degree is not required, it carries weight on job interviews," Shaw says.

Education is on-going, as the field — and repair techniques — keep changing. "You have to re-train continually. Every year we send guys for new classes, some via satellite at the dealerships, some via computers, some on site such as college and JVS campuses or in Pittsburgh or Detroit."

The ability to deal with change is important. "Since I first learned to diagnose a car's problems, the laws of physics haven't changed, but the rules have, thanks to developing electronics and computers, both in the car itself and in the diagnostic tools. The business itself has changed; it used to be considered just dirty grease monkey work. There was a stigma attached; that has to change. The guys don't deserve that rap. They have to invest a lot of money in high tech tools and training." And the trend in terms is away from "auto mechanic" to "auto technician" as the field becomes more and more technical.

Shaw worked at a dealership in Texas for several years after college, then returned to this area to work for Fairchild Chevrolet for 12 years before joining Abraham's. With all the changes, some basic academic skills remain constant. "Math, English and some Physics are involved. Communication skills are really important. A technician has to write down intelligently what he did on a computer as a record." Plus, there is the need to listen and talk to the customer about the car repairs. "Problem solving skills are important. Patience is a big virtue. And obviously you need to be good with your hands. There are areas of specialization for auto technicians such as transmissions or electronics."

There still is a shortage of well-trained employees. "It's a highly competitive thing to find good technicians. You have to pick a certain car line to work in because the factory training requirements are more stringent. You need to be fully trained to perform warranty work for a specific car manufacturer." In fact, " ... factories are making training a bigger issue because of warranty work and it may take a couple years of training to get up to standard for a different model."