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.
Name: Russell W.
Location: Russellville, Arkansas
Job Title: General Motors World Class Technician
Industry Experience: 11 Years
Technician Spotlight: Russell W.
How did you get started in the automotive industry?
When I was in high school, my school library had books on hot rods. Every chance I got, I’d be learning about hot rods, and I wanted to build one. When I was 17, I got a 1985 Camaro, but it needed some work. I took the entire dashboard apart, and put it back together. I thought it was so much fun. I went to college, but I didn’t love school. I ended up leaving college, and going to technical school instead. After technical school, I started out as a lube technician at an Exxon station, but I really wanted to work in a dealership. Then, I got a job at a Chrysler dealer as a car washer. I moved on from there and got a new position as an alignment technician. I learned how to do alignments and got pretty good at it. After that, I threw in the towel, locked up the tool box, and put it in storage. I decided to go back to college, took a computer course, and dropped out. I started a construction business with my parents and did that for about two years. I joined the army, came back with a bum knee, and couldn’t go back into construction. I eventually found a job as a full line technician. From there, I bounced around from a lot of different dealerships, but couldn’t find the right one. I managed an independent shop for over a year. I was trying to run it like a dealership, and the owner wanted to run it as a family business. Then, I ended up going back to the dealership.
What is your favorite part of being a technician?
The feeling you get when you start up a vehicle, and it runs right. The vehicle was brought in, running terribly, you found the problem, and could fix it for the customer. A lot of the work has to do with your attitude. It’s very easy to get caught up in the negatives. Flat rate is a system that can reward you when it’s done right, but punishes you when you’re working on really hard problems. You need to be able to overcome the negatives, and say, “Yes, those jobs weren’t great, but this one went well, and I’ve fixed it.” It’s a mindset everyday to maintain a positive attitude, and not let one job that kicked your butt tear you down.
What’s the best advice you can give someone looking to enter the industry?
Fix trains, fix planes, fix string wires, and fix air conditioners because you can still get your hands-on experience with those. For technicians, go to a community college, and learn everything you can from there. Be sure to realize your best experience is going to be from the master technician you get linked up with in your first job. Get in the shop, and work hard. The best thing you can do when you get to work in the morning is to lock up your phone. Ask, “What can I do now?” Do your best job, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be diligent. If you run out of work, sweep the floors. People notice that stuff. If you’re willing to get in there and work hard, you’ll get opportunities and promotions. If you’re just sitting on your phone, no one will be willing to help you.
What has being a technician taught you the most?/ What skills has your career given you?
The number one thing being a technician has taught me is to be very cautious and careful when you’re picking employers. There are people out there that are good leaders, who do this business right. Unfortunately, they are outnumbered. That’s just based on my experience of having two good leaders, and 12 bad ones. Try and communicate with your leaders. If they’re always locked up in their office, pop in and visit with them a little bit. If they’re willing to collaborate and work together to make the shop better, you will have a good work environment. A lot of it is willingness to work together and see things from the other side. It is not just about a paycheck, but making the shop successful.
What do you wish more people, especially high schools, knew about this profession?
I wish they would understand it is hard, but rewarding work. You come into this business, gain a lot of skills, and can earn a decent living. If you don’t want to be a technician your whole life, you’ll have skills employers look for like electrical diagnosis, HVAC, and hydraulics. If you’re willing to work with customers and like talking with people, you can become a service advisor. If you want to wrench all your life, you’ve got a job for life.
If you knew a kid that wanted to go into the industry but his/ her parents were telling them to go into a four-year college, what would you tell the parents?
I was watching TechMission 2021 and there was a conversation about a kid who had a gift for working with their hands. His whole family was lawyers and expected him to go to law school. My parents were both nurses, and I could relate. If my dad tries to work on a car, he’s angry in 15 minutes , and ready to throw tools. He doesn’t understand the idea of working with your hands. For me, I’m not gifted in algebra. If you have somebody who is gifted at working with their hands, why are you pushing them into something they hate, when there are better options out there for them?