Article written by Shelby Livetsky in collaboration with Jill Trotta from the RepairPal team
Calvin Coolidge once said, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence,” explaining that neither education, genius nor talent are as powerful as persistence and determination. This is something every woman should remember when pursuing a career as a mechanic.
There doesn’t really seem to be an “ultimate guide” to starting out as a tradeswoman — no manual for advice on how to start your career, written by female mechanics for female mechanics. Very few articles are written to assure young women that being an auto mechanic is possible and that there are people to teach how to succeed. I think that’s why there are fewer women in the industry working as actual mechanics on the shop floor, getting dirty and tearing stuff apart. They simply don’t know where to begin. They don’t know who will mentor them or, at the very least, take a chance on them and hire them. They are afraid that they won’t be treated as equals to their male counterparts, that they’ll be made fun of for not knowing everything about cars, or that they aren’t strong enough. But times have changed, and although women who are already involved in the industry know this and have seen it; it’s not as widely known to the general public.
This article will give you insight from not only my perspective as a female mechanic but also thoughts from men, too, and an interview with Jill Trotta, a 25-year veteran in auto mechanics and a trailblazer for women in the industry. Jill is currently working for the RepairPal team and is the recipient of the 2017 Auto Care Women of Excellence Award. Everyone needs to hear her advice and experiences. This article was created to help girls and women understand that this dream is possible, that it’s an amazing career opportunity, and to reassure parents of future female mechanics that your daughter will be more than OK in her newfound interest.
Women are accepted and encouraged now more than ever before in previously male-dominated industries — but they’re still a minority in these trades.
Currently, in Canada and the United States, only 3-4% of all automotive mechanics are women. And among heavy-duty mechanics, only a whopping 1% are women (according to surveys conducted by Statistics Canada and the U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics). This is extremely low, especially considering that, according to a study by Frost & Sullivan, women are now involved in 80% of car-buying decisions. “Although it is hard to make predictions on trends related to car ownership, it is clear that 80% of car-buying decisions are now influenced by women,” said Sarwant Singh, Frost & Sullivan’s global director. With women poised to be the largest influential demographic in the future, the absence of a female perspective or staff in an auto shop will result in loss of business and money.
Employers want to hire female mechanics to help make customers feel more at ease because they realize that a greater profit can be made when customers feel reassured. If they feel suspicious that the business is ripping them off or making them pay for unnecessary repairs and overcharging for parts, profit margins dwindle fast. Businesses realize that word of mouth and a good reputation are the best form of advertisement.
A 2014 research article titled “The augmentation of female influence in the automotive industry” stated that “the latest research reveals that women are progressively dominating the car-buying process.” This shows that times are changing and the industry has a growing demand for female mechanics. The role of women in auto care has moved past desk jobs and into the shop itself, making it a friendlier and less intimidating environment for its female customers.
Myths, misconceptions and bad experiences heard from other women in the industry tend to scare new female apprentices away from pursuing their dreams and interests in mechanics. Women often believe that they are too weak for the job, that they don’t have enough experience or knowledge about cars, or that male mechanics will be demeaning, hard to work with and won’t help them out. In Jill’s experience, however, she sees a more positive outlook.
“I have always been treated like an equal,” she says. “I’ve always been more like the den mother where they will come and talk to me about things that I’m sure they’re not talking to their male coworkers about.”
Misconceptions can prevent women from even trying their hand at auto repair. If you’re hard-working, driven and willing to learn, most of your male counterparts will gladly mentor you and share their experience. When asked how she handled times when other people were negative toward her for being a woman doing “man’s” work, Jill said, “I let my work speak for itself.” She explained that her way of overcoming these obstacles was by “being on top of your game and pointing out to them when they’re being disrespectful. It’s definitely a challenge and something you need to work at, and I think that a lot of it is just not accepting a lesser role.”
Men in the industry are often more open-minded about women mechanics than the public realizes. Here they are in their own words, commenting on having a female co-worker:
|“We would treat her as one of the guys. It wouldn’t phase them at all to have a female in the shop, and in most cases, she would do a better job than half of the male mechanics in the shop.”||“I think it is fantastic. I have never worked with a female mechanic but have worked with female machinists in the past and they were excellent. It is hard, heavy, dirty, rusty, and tight but if that is what they want to do I think it is great!”||“I only have ever worked with one female mechanic, and she’s probably a harder worker than any other mechanic I work with, but I think it’s awesome! I feel that the mechanic industry has always been a male-driven industry but never agreed with it because I don’t think the profession should be generalized by gender. Women make great mechanics!”|
|Matt, Truck Transport Mechanic||Barry, Automotive Mechanic||Tyson, Construction Regional Dispatch/Rental Coordinator|
There are many advantages to having a female mechanic in the shop.
Women have many skills that they can bring to the table as a mechanic, which can help break up the monotony of the shop with different ideas and perspectives. Women are generally smaller than men and can get into hard-to-reach places where other mechanics can’t.
Jill describes such a situation: “Especially being a woman, if you have a big burly guy working on something behind a dash — he can’t put his hands in there but you can, so you can be there to get things out for him, whereas he would have to remove the entire dash,” which would cost time and money. It’s a team effort in the shop. No matter who you are, everyone has a skill or asset they can attribute. Work smarter, not harder: It’s a valuable skill as a mechanic that helps keep your body from wearing out too soon. Use the techniques that work for you and the proper safety equipment to perform the task at hand.
“The reality is, nobody wants to lift tires straight off the ground, so you’ve got to figure out ways of doing it and not hurting yourself, and for everybody, that’s going to be a little bit different,” Jill says. Women don’t need to be afraid of appearing too weak for the job — there is always a way to get the job done. You just may need to think outside of the box. As my mentor would say, “My girl can do it! It may take her a little longer the first time but she’ll figure it out all by herself and use leverage techniques to get the job done. She needs to know how to do everything by herself; I won’t always be here to help.”
These techniques are vital for any mechanic in the industry. For example, I have seen many male mechanics who are the same size as their female coworkers. It’s not about the size of the mechanic; it’s how they get the job done that counts. Being a mechanic, however, is not all about how strong you are or what you know. It’s about good work ethic and dedication to the job, and being able to get along with the rest of the staff.
Find People Who Will Invest In You
Here’s some advice from Jill: “Try to find a mentor and get into a trade school. Find somebody who is already working in the field and talk to them about it and network with them about it. I think one of the important things is finding a really good space to land after you complete your trade school. So, you know, you get out and you’re kind of desperate to find a job, but it’s also important to find the right fit and the right place and somebody who is going to invest in you.”
It’s not impossible for women to be mechanics, but it can be a little more difficult. The key is to find a good mentor, and a good company fit. Once you have someone on your side, teaching you the basics, and a company that is willing to invest in you, it doesn’t seem so impossible.
Hands-on training is the best way to learn how to safely, efficiently and properly fix cars and equipment. Your next step is to get some technical training at a college or institute. According to Jill, the best way to get a leg up in the industry is to get into auto mechanic trade school
and take training. In the U.S., you can apply for an 18-month course (approximately $10,000) or you can start at the bottom of a company, changing oil and working your way up the ladder over time. In Canada, there is an excellent apprenticeship program
where the majority of learning is done on the job, and only a small portion of the journeyman ticket is done at college, learning the more technical information.
The key in either case is to find a good mentor, someone who knows what they’re doing and who has the patience to teach you what you need to know to be successful as a mechanic. That’s not only your stepping stone but also the key to a long and prosperous career.
Employers & Behavioral Interviews
It all boils down to who will work hardest at this job and give it their best effort. Employers are often looking at how well new hires get along with existing peers in the workplace rather than how much training or experience they have. Training and qualifications are important, however. Employers are more willing to hire female mechanics who have the right attitude, drive and passion, even if they don’t have as much experience as the other applicants. A business can always train employees to do a job, but they can’t train staff to be hardworking or to be friendly with co-workers.
Passion and a good work ethic seem to be rare in today’s world. Employers realize if employees work well together and are productive for the company, the results will bring in more customers, and therefore increase profits. In the end, if female applicants don’t have all the right qualifications but are willing to take the training, employers will be more than willing to hire them over others who are less passionate about the job.
“Individuals are too complex to stereotype. Not all men like to get their hands dirty and I know women who get a rush out of it… It’s hard to work on cars, but women and men are equally capable to build strength and skill. The real question is this: Will more women take an interest in auto repair?” ~Women Auto Know
Companies and management are slowly learning that they don’t just need physically strong mechanics. Employers want their staff to work hard and take pride in their job. They seek individuals who are willing to learn, and who can get along with others in the company.
The Opportunities Are Endless
More advice from Jill: “When you are working actively as a technician, you fall into the lifelong learner category, because you have to continuously go to training. Something we at RepairPal really focus on for the shops we have in our network is the importance of training and the importance of keeping up to date.”
Being a mechanic is more than just pulling a wrench. There are many other skills you learn while on the job. You can build upon these skills to climb the ladder in the industry. Beyond the technical and mechanical skills, working in this trade also develops problem-solving skills, communication skills and customer service skills. These assets help increase trust with customers, particularly female customers.
The opportunities are endless, and there are plenty of careers to pursue after you retire the wrench. It doesn’t matter what gender you are, everyone has to retire from the physically demanding job of fixing equipment or vehicles at some point. You can go many places when you have mechanical experience and training as a base. Most retired mechanics take up careers as college instructors, management opportunities, government jobs in apprenticeship, or open their own shops.
All these careers help shape the next generation of mechanics, teaching young people the trade and all the techniques that go with it.
So, should your daughter be a mechanic?
The short answer to this question is yes; if you have a dream you should pursue it.
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” ~Calvin Coolidge
Anything is possible, as long as you are driven and willing to learn; persistence and determination, along with a good mentor, will take you there.
Here’s a final bit of advice from Jill to the parents of young women interested in auto mechanics: “Let her explore and see if it’s something she wants to do. There are lots of opportunities, and there will always be a job.”
A heavy-duty mechanic apprentice by day, Shelby specializes in fixing and maintaining school buses. She is here to give an insight into the world of a female mechanic and hopefully inspire other women.
Note from the Author:
I wanted to take the time in this last paragraph here to note and thank all the people that helped me through writing this article and helping everything come together:
- I would like to thank RepairPal for the opportunity to collaborate with them and Jill Trotta for sharing her insight as well as the Mechanic Doctor for giving us a forum to publish our article.
- Jee from The Mechanic Doctor, as well for pulling this article together double checking everything and making sure my articles are always up to par.
- Thirdly, I would love to thank the men in the industry who commented on their thoughts of having a female mechanic coworker.
- A huge thank you to Charmee Penner! A good friend of mine who read through this article and was another set of eyes for double checking grammar and run-on sentences.
- A huge thank you to all my close friends and family whom, I constantly forced to reread my article after the many times I changed and rewrote it. I thank you all for your input, encouragement and constructive criticism!
- A shout out to Summer Delight Photography for the two photos of me in this article! They say a picture is worth a thousand words and Summer has entirely captured my love and passion for my career in these photos!
- Interview with Jill Trotta in collaboration with RepairPal and The Mechanic Doctor.
- Frost & Sullivan: Women in Cars – A Mega Trend for the Automotive Industry http://www.frost.com/prod/servlet/press-release.pag?docid=291103428
- Statistics Canada, Registrations in registered apprenticeship programs http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/151026/t001a-eng.htm
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11.htm