The Road to Becoming an Auto Mechanic: Where to Start
by Steve Dearborn
Does the rev of an engine make your pulse race? Were you the kind of kid that took apart the toaster oven, just to see how it worked? Are you a problem solver that likes getting your hands dirty? If so, it may be time to take the motor oil plunge into the field of automotive repair.
The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the demand for automotive service mechanics will rise by nine percent between 2012-2020 making it a steady, in-demand profession. Becoming an auto mechanic, or automotive service technician, requires three things: experience, education, and certification.
The automotive repair industry calls for field experience and hands-on training. It is also a career that sees technological, electrical, and mechanical changes and advancements on a regular basis. If you already have professional experience working in an automotive shop, then you're off to a good start. However, many would-be mechanics fall into the frustrating paradox of needing to gain work experience, but the shops they apply for work at expect them to already have it. Some aspiring auto mechanics turn to car companies and manufacturers that offer apprenticeship programs, while others take their education into their own hands.
If you do not have, or are not currently receiving work experience, there are specialized training and education programs available to you, and for entry-level positions, the completion of a post-secondary or vocational automotive service technology program is generally perceived as the optimal means of preparation. Schools like Penn Foster Career School offer accredited programs that offer education and hands-on learning. In programs like these, students receive in-depth education on suspensions, engine types and automotive fuel systems and receive preparation materials for certification in automotive disciplines like engine performance, brakes, suspension and steering, electrical and engine repair. The programs help prepare students for the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification testing in auto mechanics.
After one to three years of on-the-job training or completion of an automotive service technician program, you are eligible to complete the ASE certification testing. There are no mandatory national certification tests and standards may vary from state to state, and from specialization to specialization, but the ASE certification may qualify you to make higher salaries in the field, and many employers expect their techs to be certified before hiring. After gaining more experience, automotive service techs can test for certification in specialized fields and services to narrow and hone the focus of their skills. Since the automotive industry is one of innovation and change, you will be expected to keep your certification current, which requires retesting every few years.
Navigating the course to an automotive mechanic technician career may seem intimidating if you do not know where to start, but there are plenty of resources in seeking experience, education and certification available to you on your road to success.