Auto Technicians and Mechanics Adapt to an Ever-Changing Industry

by Felicia Bechtoldt

December 28, 2016

About 3.1 million Oregonians held a driver's license in Oregon in 2015 and the state had more than 4.3 million registered vehicles. That doesn't include vehicles registered elsewhere that travel into the state. That's a lot of cars, trucks, motorcycles, and motor homes on the road with the potential to break down and need some kind of servicing or require regularly scheduled preventative maintenance. But if you’re among the 8,028 automotive service technicians and mechanics that worked in Oregon in 2014, cars would outnumber you by a ratio of 533-to-one: a favorable number when you’re in a field based on demand for auto repair.

At Your Service

A typical day for auto technicians and mechanics is anything but typical – dozens of cars and light trucks may pass through their shops, all different makes, models, and years. Their work involves inspecting and repairing vehicles, using a variety of power tools, hand tools, testing equipment, computers, machinery, and other devices. To keep up with the latest models and changing technology, they consult technical manuals, manufacturer’s service information, the internet, and other sources.

Being an auto technician or mechanic can be stressful. Forty-hour workweeks are fairly standard, though many work longer hours to keep up with customer demand. Working with loud noise and within cramped spaces is part of the job. Safety is always a high priority, since mechanics and technicians are often exposed to toxic chemicals and heavy equipment as they change car fluids and handle large tools and auto parts.

Routine maintenance, like oil changes and tire rotations, are the easier part of the job. It’s the more complex repairs that make the job difficult. Although computerized diagnostic equipment can help, it can be tough to identify the source of a problem.

Problem-solving plays a large role in the work of auto mechanics, especially as cars become increasingly complex. As more and more electronic components are added, from voice recognition software to electric motors, mechanics have to continuously adapt to changing technologies. Mark Bechtoldt of Corbett, Oregon has been an auto mechanic for 34 years and has seen how automotive technology has advanced over the years. “As the technology used in cars has become more sophisticated, so did the tools and equipment used to diagnose and repair car problems. Earlier computerized cars required more time to diagnose problems compared to the current available technology.” Bechtoldt, who specializes in troubleshooting automotive electrical systems, started as a lube technician and learned the technical skills at the General Motors training center and on the job.

Training Ensures Mechanics Are Fully Equipped for the Job

Earning a certificate or associate’s degree in automotive technology (or a similar field) is common for entry-level positions and is supplemented by on-the-job training. Community colleges around the state offer programs in automobile/automotive mechanics technology, which usually take one or two years of mixed classroom and workshop instruction. Apprenticeships are also available for younger workers age 16 through 24 that have their high school diploma or GED, via the U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Corps career and technical training program.
Related work experience may not be a requirement for entry-level positions, though any experience is helpful. Mark Bechtoldt grew up fixing farm equipment (tractors, ploughs, and disks), which was a valuable experience that contributed to his interest in automotive mechanics.

Given how quickly automotive technology changes, many employers provide or fund additional training as needed. Workshops and courses are available from technical institutes, manufacturers, auto parts suppliers, and other organizations.

Employment Trends

In Oregon, 38 percent of auto technicians and mechanics (3,022) were employed by automotive repair and maintenance shops in 2014, while the next largest group (30%, or 2,421 workers) were employed by automobile dealers. Automotive parts, accessories and tire stores employed 7 percent of auto technicians and mechanics (584).

An estimated 3,033 auto technician and mechanic job openings will be available in Oregon between 2014 and 2024. Employment among auto technicians and mechanics is projected to grow 11 percent (884 jobs) between 2014 and 2024, offering opportunities to those that accept the challenge of high-tech work in the rapidly evolving automotive industry. Replacement openings make up 71 percent of the job openings (2,149) due largely to the aging labor force and retirements.

At the occupational level, online job advertisements for auto technicians and mechanics have increased over the decade. According to the Conference Board, an organization that tracks economic indicators, the total number of online job ads for auto technicians and mechanics in Oregon – including ongoing or unfilled announcements – increased from 176 in November 2006 to 269 in November 2016. These job ads follow seasonal hiring patterns, as dealers and garages gear up for summer and winter repairs, around the time when people start taking longer road trips for vacation or holiday visits.
In 2016, median wages for auto technicians and mechanics are $19.66 per hour, or $40,892 per year, though some employers pay commission, which is not included in these figures. More experienced or highly trained workers may expect to receive higher wages.

Full Speed Ahead

The auto industry has seen many changes over the years that will continue to affect how auto technicians and mechanics do their job. Technological advancements and consumer demand will continue to have a great impact on the work of auto technicians and mechanics. These changes can make the work both challenging and rewarding.

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