This article is part of an ongoing series to highlight and promote the technician career — demonstrating to kids, parents, and teachers how becoming a technician is a rewarding career path that can be lucrative and open the door to many opportunities within the industry. Are you a technician who would like to be spotlighted? Sign up!
Technician Spotlight: Audra F.
Name: Audra F.
Location: Roslyn Heights, New York
Job Title: Shop Owner and CEO, Women Auto Know
Industry Experience: 40 years
How did you get started in the automotive industry?
I grew up in a shop my whole life. My family has been in the business since 1933, and I’m the fourth generation in my family to take over the shop. I started by answering the phone, filing papers, and, being in the environment, I organically picked up on it.
As I got older, I was interested in what the technicians were doing in the shop, and one of the guys mentored me. I watched the transition from the carburetor to fuel injection, and that’s what drove me to go to automotive trade school. When the check engine light came on, we didn’t have the internet. Originally, you didn’t know what to do, so you had to figure it out. I enrolled with a couple of my coworkers in technical training school, and we graduated from NY State’s automotive technical training program. I had a passion for fixing cars, and it was great to be able to do something someone else couldn’t do.
Being a woman, I had an opportunity to do something not a lot of women did. Being a woman in the shop was interesting from a customer perspective, but this was in the late 1980’s, and the dynamics changed. The automotive industry has evolved in front of my eyes. Now that women are coming into the industry and the industry is changing again with technology, it is very exciting. There is a very small pool of applicants coming in and seeing this as a great career path, including women, which is unfortunate because there are very cool opportunities happening right now, and it is a very lucrative and prestigious career.
What has your experience as a woman in the industry and shop owner been like?
What I found to be great was I had hands-on experience. In any industry, people will test your abilities and skills, and I was able to hold my ground. I made a point that there is no need for someone to challenge me in the shop. I’ve had so many times where I was challenged, but because I had the experience I was able to stand strong and keep moving forward without having any intimidation holding me back. I’ve had more than my share of obstacles. I’ve had one particular instance where someone said, “You and me? Are you kidding? We’ll never be equal. I’m always better than you.” I had to let him go, through absolute ignorance, and people who feel they are righteous based on nothing. You get nothing if you put nothing into it. When you work hard and do the right thing, you earn your credibility. You don’t just get it because you think you’re a hot shot.
What is your favorite part of being a technician?
The people. It used to be about fixing cars. I used to get a big thrill when I could fix something, and it was a great challenge. Now my mindset is about education because I felt people were angry and came into the auto shop defensive. They weren’t trying to be angry. They were just scared, so my mindset changed. This is where Women Auto Know started, and I started to do automotive education. That has been a life-changing experience. When I can see people understand and feel passionate about their automotive education and be able to have people do things on their own, it’s a great feeling. Even if it’s something super simple — it makes such a difference to somebody’s spirit. They don’t have a feeling of being empty or scared anymore. It’s very special.
What is Women Auto Know, and how did it get started?
We changed the terminology of the car. We broke up the car into eight essential systems correlating the car to the human body. Starting with your brain — that is the dashboard lights. Understanding what your dashboard lights mean and how you read it. Essential #2 is your vision. This is your lights and everything you need to see. Essential #3 is your digestive system — your fuel and admissions. Essential #4 is your heart. Your heart is your battery, charger, and charging system. Essential #5 is your respiratory system — your filters and how you breathe. Essential #6 is your circulatory system — fluids that run through your car. Essential #7 is your reflexes — steering , suspension, and brakes. Essential #8 is the shoes on your feet — the belts and hoses. Correlating the car to the human body and breaking it up into these eight essential systems helps people understand the function of the car better. It is not all of a sudden a big intimidating machine. All the essential systems have to work together to run. We started to do workshops to educate people on their cars and communicate our message. Our driver checklists allow people to be proactive instead of reactive, save time and money, and prolong the life of their car. It makes a difference for people. They feel so much better about making smart decisions about their cars.
What has being a technician taught you the most? / What skills has your career given you?
It has taught me to be confident in my knowledge and what I know. I have the tools and the resources, but I also have the confidence to back it up. It also taught me to be a good teamplayer. You are always working with others to achieve a common goal.
What advice would you want to give women about the industry?
In the past 3-4 years, huge things have happened in terms of gender-neutrality. It’s different now. Men 10 years ago are very different from men now. Whatever opportunities we thought were a stereotype before, are different today. Today is changing, and today the opportunities are great. Things are gender-balanced, and jobs don’t have genders like they used to. I know it’s a new breakthrough, but technology is also changing, which is why the opportunity is tremendous for women. We need people in the automotive industry because the old school people are phasing out, and we need new blood. The money is there, the opportunity is there, and if you have passion and desire, you’ll be happy at your job. You have to love what you do. If you love what you do, you’re doing the right thing. Trust your instincts. If you have someone who is putting you down, shift. Shift your job, shift your positions, and shift your mindset because no one needs to deal with that.
What would you say to women who are trying to decide if this is a good career choice?
You can get tools on eBay and Craigslist. It doesn’t need to be fancy. You have to give yourself a moment to understand everyone starts at the ground level. Give yourself a break, and don’t let go of what makes you feel good because there’s nothing worse than having to go to work every day and hating your job. When you really love it and you have a passion for it, work is fun. Satisfaction is priceless and if it’s what you like to do, it’s your quality of life. There is a learning curve no matter what you do, so stick with it.
Any final thoughts?
I appreciate WrenchWay and what you guys are doing. You’re building a great voice, and I think it is going to make a big difference. You’re standing up for women and empowering them.