What You May Not Expect About A Career In The Auto Industry
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What You May Not Expect About A Career In The Auto Industry

The automotive industry is exciting, diverse and ever-changing. If you’re just getting started, congratulations! There are hundreds of career paths you can take — believe me, your ideal segment of this industry awaits.

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Kyle Thoreen, The Rustbelt Mechanic, says that although everyone’s journey will be different, there are five things you may not be aware of regarding the career path you are choosing to follow. This article includes excerpts from a recent podcast interview between Kyle and Doug Kaufman, editor of ShopOwner.

1. Despite what certain “experts” may tell you, this is not a career for slackers.

“You should understand getting into the industry that you are going to be at the bottom of that totem pole for two years. Whether you’re doing an apprenticeship program or whether you are doing an in kind of course training with the dealership directly, not through the school, doesn’t matter where you start out, you’re going to be the guy who’s taking out trash, who is taking out the scrap metal and the rotors at the end of the day… You do kind of have to think that you are going to be earning your dues and your keep. Doesn’t matter where you’re at.” However, Kyle notes that after graduation and further certification, you’ll start to gain the trust of your dealership’s service managers and writers and get to take on more responsibilities.

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Part of growing into your role also comes from simply getting more confident in your abilities as a technician. “A lot of this industry when you’re starting off is about confidence,” says Kyle. “Finding that happy middle spot of confidence means not being too overconfident that you can take on any job that comes through the door. You’ll soon get over your head with things and make a lot of mistakes. But at the same time, you have to be confident enough in the work that you did that you’re not going back through and have to double, triple check every little thing, wasting a lot of time.”

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2. Where you learn impacts how you learn.

“Some people learn more and they learn better when they’re actually putting their hands down to the metal and working with the tools. But at the same time, you also must get a general basic knowledge of many of the book-smart stuff like wiring diagrams, electronics, learning how to do hydraulic flow diagrams for transmissions, etc. So, there’s a whole slew of things that you can’t always learn firsthand. It’s better to get that basic skill set and knowledge, letting you walk before you actually run.”

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3. You can’t hide from electricity.

“I can’t stress it enough to the newer technicians coming into the industry: electrical is going to be the future of things. It is tied into literally everything that you’re doing. When they get into ASE testing later on, new techs will find that probably half of the questions (not just in the electrical portion) in the air conditioning, transmission and brakes sections have to do with electrical. So, you must get that base knowledge of electrical systems before you can do almost anything else.”

4. It may take a while, but you’ll get paid what you’re worth.

Kyle advises that the best thing you can do early in your career is get certifications and training. “Do as much of that as you possibly can, as early as you can, to be able to get your foot in the door an get into the industry faster than a lot of other techs can at that point.”

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As for where you should seek out training, Kyle says there are pros and cons to the independent shop and the dealership: “You’ll get a much more diverse start to your career at an independent shop, but at a dealership you will be more laser-focused on generally one brand, helpful if you want to be the highest certified and trained technician in that one field,” Kyle says.

At the end of the day, certifications get you bigger bucks and better job security. “About five, six years into my career, that’s when I was making the money. The dealership that I worked at knew what I was worth, and they paid me well for what I was able to do and they kept me fed on hours.”

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5. Eventually, you’ll be the one mentoring others.

“One of the things that I always wanted to do from moment number one of being at Sinclair College, was I wanted to be able to teach,” he says. “I wanted to be able to help the newer technicians. One of my early jobs was as an online counselor helping people get through some of their issues, especially with electrical questions.”

This is an important point, he stresses, because “everyone in this industry is low on technicians now. At my dealership, I got them to finally understand that instead of looking for that big whale in this big sea of technicians, stealing the master certified tech from somewhere else, it would be better to grow one from the beginning. Why don’t you grab a high school tech or college tech and put them through the CAP program and sponsor them at that point?”

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His efforts paid off. “That’s what I ended up doing – we started sponsoring a couple of technicians to go through the CAP program and I, at that point, became the mentor for those students.”

That was good for the dealership and for himself, Kyle says: “As young techs moved through, that was probably the best feelings to be able to pass down that knowledge and become a mentor for those technicians and then on top of that, see them flourish within the industry after the point where they graduated as well.”

For more tips on navigating through your first few years in the industry, check out Kyle’s recent appearances on the T2 podcast T2iQ, available anywhere podcasts can be found.

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