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: Tracey H.
Name: Tracey H.
Location: Frederick, MD
Job Title: Automotive Instructor
Industry Experience: 12 years as a technician, and 5 years as an instructor
How did you get started in the automotive industry?
I grew up racing go-karts with my dad. My interest in cars didn’t start until my teenage years, and I decided to take an automotive class my senior year of high school. A rep from UTI came into my class, talked about the school, and I was interested. I signed up, went to UTI in Chicago, and took their automotive program.
After I graduated, I worked at BMW with a shop foreman for several months and really loved it. Eventually, I had my own team of five students working under me. I wanted to get out of the dealership and see where I could go, so I decided to leave BMW and go work at an independent shop. We really struggled during that time because of the 2008 recession. I moved through a couple different shops, working at a few dealers closer to home with Kia, GM, and Hyundai. I spent a few years learning different cars, brands, and growing my skill set. Then, I went to Nissan because they gave me a chance to be an assistant service manager. This was where my path as a technician officially ended. I saw the high school I went to had an automotive instructor who was about to retire. I applied, got hired, and now I am an automotive technician instructor at the same high school I graduated from.
What would you say to someone who is trying to decide if this is a good career choice?
Anytime you’re trying to get somebody into your industry, you have to make them love it first. Even in college, they try to cram it down your throat before you love it, and that’s backwards. You need to enjoy it, then you’ll naturally learn because you’re excited about it.
Also, try to find out if your high school has an automotive program, because that was so huge for me in finding my path and getting into a good program. Talk with your guidance counselors and see the options out there.
Lastly, there is so much variety, different types of cars, and different places you can work. The satisfaction of when you fix something is a feeling you can’t always get from other jobs. Being able to work on something broken, and fix it is very satisfying at any age. The automotive industry is changing so much and only changing faster. It’s exciting — you don’t necessarily know where the future of the industry could take you. When you work in this industry, you can make money and live comfortably.
If you knew a kid that wanted to go into the industry, but his parents or teachers were telling them to go into a 4 year college, what would you tell the parents?
I don’t want to say not to go to college, but it is very evident there are not enough jobs out there for the kids who are pushing through college. The dropout rate in college is really high. Even if they graduate, there are not enough jobs for how many students there are. The demand for technicians is high, and the supply is low. If you’re a good employee, you’ll always have a job. We get a lot of students who aren’t interested in going to college, and it’s not fair to push them or look down on them if they don’t want to go.
What can the shops do better to promote the industry?
The industry needs to step outside of the box and see what other industries are doing for employment and retaining employees. The job market is so competitive right now. You can get a job anywhere. You have to make your job appealing. It is hard work, but can also be very rewarding. We hear from shops who need new technicians, but all they do is send an email. They don’t come speak with the students, give them materials, or offer a shop tour. The people who left, left because there was no pride or value in them staying.
Overall do you believe the school systems do a good job highlighting the automotive industry as a good career choice?
The school systems need to be better at letting students know this is an option. When I was in school, they had everyone take a test to see what your strengths are. I tested really well in hands-on learning. Right there they should have given me career options highlighting my skill sets. Instead, they didn’t do anything with it, probably just put it in a folder. I was the one who signed myself up for the automotive program. I’m sure there are a lot of kids who fall in the same boat, but don’t have anyone to help guide them on the path.
What can schools do better to highlight the industry?
There needs to be more options for students who are hands-on learners. There is a big divide in our school systems. You’re either college ready or career ready, and they make you pick one. There should be something to identify the strengths of the students, and customize their path to enrich those skill sets. This would help students be successful in and out of school.