Automotive technology is changing rapidly, becoming increasingly complex. If you're a technician clinging to the status quo, you're falling behind.
“Technicians need post-secondary training, including manufacturers' training programs, to reach the top rungs of their field and earn high wages -- the top people in any shop all have advanced education,” says Pat Johnson of Automotive Youth Educational Systems (AYES), an organization that works primarily with high school students interested in becoming automotive technicians.
It's up to you to keep your knowledge current, your skills sharp and yourself marketable. Use the following tips to ensure you're keeping pace with innovations in the automotive industry.
A Hidden Chance to Get Ahead
Automotive technicians already in the field often find the best way to sharpen their skills is through their employers. The best shop managers actively encourage their employees to pursue classes designed to improve their skills and knowledge -- and underwrite some or all of the costs involved.
“We start the training with computer lessons, then we go on to satellite instruction, which is two-way with an instructor,” says Paul Egan, shop foreman at Gallagher Buick-Pontiac-GMC in New Britain, Connecticut. “Finally, we progress to hands-on sessions. Today, you simply cannot survive in this field without this training.”
Opportunities by Workplace
Your opportunities for advanced training will depend on where you work and live. Generally, if you're employed by a franchised, new-car or truck dealer, you should have reasonable access to factory training programs to keep your skills current. Often, these classes are held at the dealership or a nearby training facility. In other cases, travel and a brief or extended stay away from home may be involved. If you have the chance to attend one of these training programs, make every effort to do so. Not only will it enhance your skills, it will speak volumes about your attitude. Rarely is the least knowledgeable and least interested employee tapped for advancement.
If you work for an independent repair facility, you may also be able to attend training presented by new-vehicle manufacturers. Several automakers maintain active after-market training efforts in multiple regions. Check with your local dealers association to learn about training programs in your area.
Manage Your Own Training
Whether you work in a dealership or for an independent shop, you will often find training offered by automotive test equipment manufacturers and parts suppliers. These programs usually take place on weekends or in the evening to steer clear of work schedules. Programs presenting a broader curriculum should be available in local vocational schools. Many areas also have private schools that provide this training.
Research the Program
Out-of-shop training programs can vary greatly in quality and scope. Before attending any class, especially one requiring a substantial outlay in time or money, you should check what it covers. Also ask about the instructor's credentials and whether any organization, such as the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT), has certified the program. Make sure the program yields a diploma or certificate that carries some weight with your current and possible future employers.
If traditional training options would be impractical for you, look into Web-based, distance-learning courses. Many are very good, carry accreditation and can help you further your career on your own schedule. The only instance you may need to meet offline will be for proctored testing, which is often required for certification. Remember that the value of these courses increases when you apply the theory to your work; look for a training program that combines theoretical study and hands-on practice.
An Added Benefit
Be sure that when looking for a job as an automotive technician, you don't limit your benefits inquiries to pay, hours, insurance and vacations; ask about training programs. If there is one thing you can count on in the automotive industry, it's change -- and your need to keep up with it.