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Shop qualifications and pay

How should mechanics be paid and how much?What qualifications should be a minimum for an auto mechanic to be hired?

Those are some pretty tough questions to answer and after pondering this some I don’t think there’s a set answer due to so many variances; especially with the pay part of that.
When it comes to new car dealers and warranty work the pay for doing that is absolutely ludicrous although it’s been my experience that the European cars are better about this as compared to domestics and Asian cars.

As to qualifications, and if I were hiring someone, I would look for verifiable experience over trade schools. Preferably someone with at least 5 years on the line at a minimum.

Those TV ads for trade schools are especially grating to me. The insinuation being that a year or two in their classes will translate to employers coming after the prospective employee in droves and way into the 5 digits in pay is pretty much bunk.

Not to mention that many of those who complete a course won’t have much of a clue as to how to start diagnosing even a simple problem. As a shop foreman I’ve had to deal with a few of these people; who were hired against my recommendation.
That’s not to say they were bad people. On the contrary, they were great people that I personally liked. The issue was that they could diagnose or fix a car and a lot of my time was spent baby-sitting them.

I agree that a tech school education does not equate to a good technician. I have seen some real losers come out of those places. I actually started at a chain shop straight out of high school and learned the trade from my shop manager. I was getting paid seven dollars an hour to learn the trade from a really great guy who was pleasantly surprised by my level of knowledge, abilities, common sense, and diagnostic abilities. He added to that by teaching me to be a great welder, cutter, and pipe bender. To this day, I love doing custom exhaust work. The owner of the franchise lost her rights to it and corporate came in, cleaned the shop of the manager and all the technicians but me (I stayed because I needed the job. All the other guys followed the manager out the door). They hired all new guys, who I had to teach to do pretty much everything we did in that place, and was getting a whopping nine dollars an hour. I stayed at that pay rate for three years, after two years of getting seven an hour, before getting out of the industry. I worked there from '04 to '08. Frankly, I believe I was underpaid for what I was doing, considering everything the other guys were afraid to touch went to me, ranging from removing broken exhaust manifold studs and major custom exhaust work to internal engine work and electrical diagnosis, and they were making a dollar more per hour than I was!

Better question is should the flate rate pay system be dropped rather than how much should a mechanic make per hour. The “drop the flat rate” argument has been going on, well almost 40 years in my case.

About babysitting employees. A new mechanic comming into a shop has to find his way around the shop, in all aspects. It is a very hard job to do alone. What I mean is when you don’t know where things are kept in the shop or the logistical process of being dispatched a car, making a diagnosis,getting approval, fixing the car, test driving, closing out the paper work, getting the keys to a palce they can be found, these type of things need to be worked out and for some it goes hard and others easy. When you have a shop foreman that does not want you there in the first place every single obstacle that you must overcome to fix a car can be turned into a mountain.

As far as minimum level to be hired, well this is different from minimum level to be turned loose on someones car alone. No mechanic should be turned loose alone if he will be using a customers car to learn on from the bottom up. He should be kept paired up with a mechanic that is paid to check his work over.

Tech schools are no different from any other school in that they’re good places to learn the technology and the theory and to get one’s hands dirty for those who would not otherwise have had the opportunity, but they don’t displace experience, intergrity, and third-party credentialing. They’re not intended to. The best combination is a background that includes technical training, ASE cerification, experience, and a good track record.

But, even with all that, there are poor technicians, just as there are poor medical doctors, poor chiropractors, and poor (yet licensed) plumbers, electricians, and heating system technicians.

No amount of training, testing, experience, and/or licensing can gusrantee a good technician. And there IS a difference between “ten years of experience” and “one year of experience ten times”.

I posted because I don’t want people to get the impression that any one element is better than any other. It’s a weighting game.

I think Tech Schools get a bad rep because managment loves them but the rank and file employee hates them (unless they came from one) because they have been passed over for the position that the Tech School person was hired into.

I am finding the same thing in the IT field that I have moved into. The employer wants you to have your CCNA certification but the other employees grumble that those certifications are a dime a dozen and don’t mean anything. The grumbling goes on with seniors that never got their PHd’s, they grumble that the degrees that younger people are getting today are not the same as “they used to be” and are too easy to get. Well if they are so easy to get why don’t you have one?

I suspect that the same problem exists in all the skills fields. I know of a large manufacturing company that wanted to get all their maintenance people trained to weld, and wanted to provide a labor grade uptick for those that did, but the union stopped the program because they didn’t want new hires with welding certs coming on at higher labor grades than existing maintenance people with many years of experience but no AWS cert, and they didn’t feel it was fair to make experienced people get more education to move up a grade. I don’t think the stuation was ever resolved.

You would have thought the welding cert. would have been a breeze for the more experienced people, or could there just possibly be something with the cert. that the more experienced people could have struggled with?

To elaborate a bit on my comment about trade schools and babysitting let me say this.
The first falls in line with mark9207’s comment about school attendance does not make a mechanic. Some of what they teach is pretty shallow and many of the teachers are even shallower.
An example of that would be the trade school that taught farm machinery mechanics. The teacher is a college grad, a farmer also, and lives a block from me. I would not let this guy even touch my lawnmower. How bright a person does it take to wire around several safety switches on a combine with a 24 foot header, have your wife get in and start it up (IN GEAR) while you’re standing in front of it? With the header engaged?

I caught the last 10 minutes one weekend of a 30 minute infomercial basically about UTI. At the very end they were promoting high five figure salaries for techs and showed the UTI bulletin board at their facility.
The largest banner on there was from a large multi-line dealer who promised a 5000 dollar sign on bonus for any tech hired. HA! I worked for this guy (the LAST dealer I ever worked for) and a tech was lucky to get a check, parts at the counter, or any shop equipment repaired. For example, I was having to overhaul transmissions on the bench with the aid of a hand held troublelight (few windows in the shop) because they would NOT replace the burnt out fluorescent light bulbs. The fire marshal walked in one morning, took one look, and within 5 minutes was writing up citations. Five grand bonus? I don’t think so.

This is also the same guy who fired the front end tech when a double post lift gave way and dumped a car over the side. The tech had told them for months this was going to happen.
When someone broke in one weekend and stole almost every single top box from the mechanics’ tool boxes by dragging them off into a new GMC pickup (which they also stole) he also refused to allow his insurance carrier to pay one dime of it.

By babysitting I do not mean teaching them procedures about how things are done in the shop as to paperwork and whatnot. I’m talking about someone who has graduated after 2 years of trade school and does not know how to test a battery.
We had one guy (great guy that I got along with well) who had an Assoc. Degree in Diesel Technology after 2 years at a trade school run by a large state university.
When given a non-starting diesel that was towed in he had no clue as to where to start. Even when I would tell him the first thing to check was the glow plug fuse (and he was given the location of that fuse) he still did not get it.
(In his case, and like many others, after a year he decided that mechanic work was not it and became a police officer in an adjoining state.)

My younger brother worked at an Arby’s restaurant a couple years ago. His knowledge of cars pretty much stems from watching our dad work on stuff growing up and watching me work on stuff at home, as well as what he taught himself on his own vehicles. He’s pretty sharp, but still needs my help with some things. He had a coworker at Arby’s who was a recent graduate from Lincoln Tech in Indianapolis, with degrees in automotive and diesel technology. A girl who worked at the Arby’s had a Chevy Malibu with a V6 that had eaten it’s serpentine belt due to a seized up tensioner pulley. Lincoln Tech guy tries to impress this young lady by working on her car for her in the parking lot. He first tried to remove her power steering pump for some unknown reason by prying on it with a crowbar. Needless to say, he broke it, as well as breaking the belt tensioner when he used the same tactic to try to remove it. My brother pulled into work to find this mess and asked him what the hell he was doing to that poor car. He said he was fixing it. My brother went inside and told the girl that this guy was outside breaking everything on her car, but it was okay because I had a Grand Am parts car he could get replacement parts off of. They got Lincoln Tech guy away from the car and my brother replaced the power steering pump, tensioner, and belt with parts from my Grand Am parts car. Lincoln Tech guy continued to insist that he was not stupid and knew what he was doing. I guess no matter what your educational credentials, you still can’t fix stupid.

I wonder then if it is best to say then that all you know you learned reading the Motors manual while sitting on the john rather than say you got the AA Degree and all your ASE’s?

Perhaps then expectations won’t be so high.

We have had this discussion before and I certainly don’t have to have the last word or even dismiss others observations as I have seen them also. One BMW “Step Student” (very pricey training) came flat out and said that he did not pay attention the day they taught how to change serpentine belts. They fired him and his Mother came down to the Dealer raising a fuss. Can you imagine your mother comming to your job and fighting to get it back for you?

It used to be Step Students had guaranteed employment (up until about 2005) now they get no preference.

So the consensus here amongst the respected forum members seems to be a rather dim view of “Trade / Technical Schools”. So my question is, how would someone with no experience “break into” the business? One runs into the conundrum of, ‘you can’t get a job without experience, but you can’t get the experience because no one will hire you.’

I would imagine the days of getting a job as a gas pump jockey and learning by working alongside the “real” mechanics are largely gone. Nowadays there is such productivity pressure that an employer expects you to be ‘useful’ from day one.

Over the past few years, I have learned A LOT by reading these forums (off and on). My opinion is that the flat rate system sucks. Basically, mechanics work on commission and the whole system seems designed to encourage replacing unnecessary parts and even fraud. Add to that, these chain shops are corporations and the entire focus is on “making your numbers”. There is enormous pressure to “cheat” in order to “make your numbers”. But I guess that’s everywhere nowadays.

I see the same thing in my job. Production standards are set so high that many people work through their lunch in order to keep a job. Then we have these ‘meetings’ because management cannot understand why we can’t go more than 2 weeks without a workers comp accident. It’s because the standard is set too high.

So the consensus here amongst the respected forum members seems to be a rather dim view of “Trade / Technical Schools”. So my question is, how would someone with no experience “break into” the business?

I recommend a community college with an automotive technician program. Their graduates usually get help with job placement.

Recent studies have exposed the fact that private schools (including trade and technical schools) lead to much larger student loan debt than public institutions. Why pay $4,000 to go to Roadmaster to become a truck driver when you can get the same training at a state college for less than half the price?

You will experience the same “book smart but can’t find his a-- with a map and flashlight” prejudice when your training comes from the Community College. It is up to the individual to realize he is up against this perception when hired in and don’t act dumb or do dumb stuff, wow what a concept.

I might add it will only take about 8 hrs to shut your detractors up if you do know your stuff. It is not hard to figure out if a guy is all show. Now there are some shop foreman that are so incensed that you were hired against their advice that you will have a tough going getting any kind of postive comment out of,simply because you come with training and certifications.

My Community College program is just to give a guy a head-set and a video and have him work through “exercises” at a work station. The best training I ever got was the 2day too 2 week courses offered at the Dealership level. The instructors were usually ex-mechanics and you were in a room with 15 current mechanics. Now you did have the bad apple that was pissed off that he was in school and not flaging his 100hrs per 45 hr pay period.

One would think that, but there’s really a lot more to the AWS specs than many realize. A maintenance guy with experience might be able to do a perfectly functional job with general welding, but doing various thicknesses of metal, various metals, various alloys, and providing coupons acceptable to AWS specs upon sectioning may well be beyond his experience and capability. There are safety issues as well. Beyond the obvious frying of the retinas problem, there are issues like the necessary precautions and prep when welding galvie (zinc is toxic).

Personally, I strongly believe in formal education, an accredited Community College being my preferred. In my attempt to recognize that formal education does not automatically produce a good mechanic and that there are other hands-on ways to learn, I may have misled some here, and if I did I apologize.

Unfortunately apprenticeships are largely a thing of the past in all industries. I’m a believer that a good tech school education followed by an apprenticeship is the best of all processes, but I suppose in a world where nobody stays anywhere for long I suppose that’s an unrealistic expectation.

I agree. I’ve been a welder for 8 yrs. and I have a D1.1 structural cert. Which means I’m certified for all positions and unlimited thickness if it’s a groove or fillet weld using mild steel and 1/8in 7018 welding rod. Just got a job tig welding small things such as tomato slicers… I suck at thin gauge stuff. Not to mention it’s a completely different code. The codes can be quite exclusive. I worked under D14.1 for a while (earth moving and heavy equipment).

That being said, when I first graduated from welding school I was lucky enough to get a job at a fab shop. I worked with several VERY good fitters and learned how to fabricate very well. There is no school for fitting/fabrication, if I hadn’t lucked out and had some very smart coworkers I wouldn’t be able to build my head out of my ass.

Now I’m going to school for mech. engineering, and will soon have a CWI cert. (certified welding inspector). I figure… after busting my ass for 8 years it’s time to start designing stuff. I already have several companies offering me co-op jobs with a chance to be hired, cause I have been in the shop and I know how stuff is done. The most common complaint I hear about engineers is that they design stuff for the final function, never thinking of how it will be built or serviced, I my self have uttered those words while walking in to point out a flaw to an engineer.

I conclude then the certified people deserved the extra pay and the “more experienced” people should get with the program.

The vo-tech schools can give a talented young man a great start. One young man went to work for me when he finished a community college 2 year course and remained with me 8 years. When he left his annual pay was in excess of $50,000. A large trucking company offered him a job supervising the maintenance of a fleet of over 200 trucks based on his record with me. He was 29 when he left and I was proud that my people were that well respected. The young man was talented, knowledgeable and totally trustworthy and is a good friend.

So many of todays shops are chains or franchised dealerships which want a man to hit the ground running and offer no ‘graceful’ entry and no school can totally prepare a man for all the exigencies of life as a mechanic. The new owner of my business occasionally calls with questions regarding dealing with old customers and mechanics. He is young and often too impatient dealing with both. But he’s catching on. I dread the day he finds himself writing a payroll check to a mechanic for more than he will clear that month. That seems to separate the men from the boys.

i agree, you cant buy experience at a trade school, you are not hiring a qualified mechanic out of trade school, you must train him on the job, if he does not pick it up send him packing.