Do an online job search for an auto mechanic or auto technician, and you’ll be amazed at the number of openings. Employers are seeking people for everything from battery and glass replacement to diagnosing problems with electrical systems. With a shortage of skilled labor, many such positions are going unfilled.
Some associate it with high school vocational programs being eliminated. Others think it has more to do with our university-focused culture. Whatever the case, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an average of 69,000 automotive service technician and mechanic openings per year over the next decade. Retirement and attrition are expected to create a dire need for qualified professionals.
Meanwhile, there’s also a massive shift happening in the culture of auto repair. Traditional knowledge about the mechanics of cars, trucks and SUVs is still a must. However, an understanding of sensors, electronics, and computerized systems has become just as important. To take advantage of these growing opportunities, the right education is key.
Back in 2018, NPR wrote an article entitled, “High-Paying Trade Jobs Sit Empty While High School Grads Line Up for University.” It makes the point that getting a bachelor’s degree has been drummed into most students in the U.S. This means missed opportunities for young people and the industry as a whole. The news outlet mentioned a twenty-year-old who took the trade route and was making $28.36 an hour with benefits and without student loans. He knew it would be years before his friends in college could come close to what he had already accomplished.
In 2021, U.S. News & World Report placed auto technicians in the top 10 of maintenance and repair jobs. The ranking is based on a number of elements including salary, working conditions, stress levels, work-life balance, and upward mobility. Zip Recruiter states that as of Oct 17, 2021, the average annual pay for an auto mechanic in the United States is $41,122. That averages out to more than $20 an hour. Highly skilled mechanics can earn up to $100,000, annually.
Anyone considering auto mechanic or auto tech training can build a career on a high school degree or GED. It generally takes two to five years to learn the necessary skills. For those hungry for success, there are numerous vocational training programs and postsecondary learning facilities. On-the-job and paid training are also commonplace.
Many employers expect mechanics to earn at least one certification through The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE)—and even the most experienced professionals can keep learning. Training is consistently offered by third parties and automotive manufacturers to keep those in the profession current.
A wide variety of certifications can help to boost pay and employability. Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is known as the industry standard and offers many certification tests, including:
- Engine repair
- Automatic transmission/transaxle
- Manual drivetrain & axles
- Suspension & steering
- Electrical/electronic systems
- Heating & air conditioning
- Engine performance
As technology advances, training in electrical and electronic systems increases in importance. When someone comes in for a repair, computerized diagnostic tools allow the tech and the vehicle to connect. The tech needs to analyze the data to figure out what vehicle is “saying.”
Even the more hands-on jobs require familiarity with specialized equipment. For instance, changing a tire is more difficult when working around tire sensors. Body and framework fixes require collision technicians to take advanced drive assistance systems (ADAS) into account. Sensors must be set up accurately and precisely to successfully provide blind spot monitoring and collision avoidance.
This sea change in the industry may seem like a lot. The good news is that it can lead to unprecedented opportunity. Even seasoned auto techs, who know vehicles inside and out, will find additional skills make them that much more marketable.
Auto techs and mechanics can end up working in a variety of settings. With so many options, there is a fit for everybody:
- Tire stores
- Auto repair shops
- Parts manufacturers
- Equipment manufacturers
- Automotive manufacturers
- Teaching/training others
It makes sense to step back and take stock of where you are in your career. Then, decide on a path and seek out positions for advancement. Today’s need for auto techs and auto mechanics is the result of a perfect storm. The right skills can offer a sound future for years to come.