How many people do you know that can actually pop the hood of a car and know exactly what they’re looking at? For most people, the answer is “not many.” The inner workings of vehicles look like a jumble of wires, belts, and pieces that don’t make a whole lot of sense. A mechanic, on the other hand, sees a puzzle where all of the pieces fit together in one very specific way. The knowledge of that puzzle allows him or her to narrow down issues, diagnose problems, and get the vehicle back on the road as quickly as possible. That problem solving doesn’t just happen, though. It requires significant training and effective education, which is where mechanic school comes into play.
A natural talent for an affinity toward working with engines is important for mechanics. But a natural inclination isn’t really enough. If you are serious about establishing a successful career in the automotive industry, you’ll also need formal education and in-depth training in the field. These steps will provide you with an overview of what is required to become a mechanic.
1. Determine your focus.
If you’re considering becoming a mechanic, you likely already have a strong desire to work on vehicles. However, you also need to know exactly where you want to go with that dream. It will behoove you to take some time to consider the different possibilities available in the field – from working in a shop to training in diagnostics. Once you have narrowed your focus, it will be easier to determine what formal training program will be the best fit for you.
2. Complete a training program.
Formal education in the field is essential to gain the interest and trust of employers. Some certifications also require some level of formal education, so it is important to complete the necessary schooling. Most certificate programs last from six months to a year while an associate degree will take you two years to complete. There are a few programs that offer a bachelor’s degree in the field, but they are rare.
3. Seek on-the-job training.
As important as it is to complete formal education to become a mechanic, you’ll get the real experience necessary with on-the-job training. This type of experience is invaluable when you head into the field and make a go of it on your own. This additional post-graduate training will vary in intensity and length based on several factors, including the specialization of the work you intend to do.
4. Get certified.
Having the appropriate certification will also set you apart in the field. The standard certification for mechanics is offered through the National Institute for Automotive Excellence. Certification through this institution is available in nine different areas.
5. Continue learning.
The technology in any field changes quickly, but especially so in the automotive industry. To stay abreast to these changes and remain competitive in your field, you need to keep up with the latest techniques and features in engines and other automotive components. Hands-on training as well as coursework is helpful for this. You will need to continue learning throughout your career as a mechanic.
As a mechanic, you’ll have a strong knowledge of the basic automotive parts as well as how they function together. You will also need to know how to effectively use diagnostic software and tools to determine what is wrong with a vehicle, particularly those with engines that are largely computer based. You will also need to be able to communicate effectively and explain layman’s terms what work needs to be done so that any of your customers can understand the issue with their vehicle as well as how it will be corrected.
Depending on your specialization or area of expertise, you may work on any array of vehicles, from small cars to trucks and even construction vehicles. You may even choose to only work on certain vehicle parts, such as with a specialization in brakes, air conditioning, or transmissions.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2015, service technicians brought in a median salary of $37,850 with the upper 10 percent drawing a salary of $63,330. Likewise, the job market for technicians and mechanics is projected to grow by five percent, which is slightly less than average.
The right preparation and training is essential in any field but especially for those aspiring to be successful mechanics. Depending on your focus, you may consider formal education through a vocational or trade school, the military, a community college, or a mechanic school. In any case, you’ll need to decide your focus, select a program, complete additional on-the-job training, seek certification, and continue honing your skills to be a competitive technician in the field. For those willing to put in the effort and time required, a career in the automotive industry can be very rewarding.