Blair Littleton had such a negative car repair experience while she was a senior in high school that after graduation she decided to attend a vocational school where she was certified as an auto technician. That was 10 years ago. Today she is the manager of a European car repair shop in Orange County.
“I realized that there were men out there who took advantage of my understanding of how a car engine works, and that really pissed me off,” she said. “My dad planted the seed for me to become a car mechanic, or grease monkey as he likes to call me, and I loved the idea. Women come to my shop because they know they can trust me, and men come in because I am good at what I do.”
In the automotive industry today, women are racing cars around the track professionally, hawking automotive products, and selling cars on the lot with the rest of the guys. But not enough women are actually getting their hands dirty on engines and transmissions. According to the latest data (2010) from the U.S. Department of Labor, only two percent of small-engine mechanics were women. Less than one percent of bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists were women, which is too bad, because there are plenty of opportunities and room for growth in the industry.
The U.S. Department of Labor also reports there will be approximately 1,288,700 jobs in the collision, automotive, motorcycle, and marine industries making on average of $20 an hour in the United States by the year 2018 so there are plenty of decent paying jobs to go around.
There are many vocational schools around such as Universal Technical Institute in Los Angeles and Arizona that teach and certify students as professional automotive, diesel, collision repair, motorcycle and marine technicians. Local classes are also offered at San Diego Miramar College with their Automotive Technology Program and MiraCosta and Cuyamaca College also offer similar programs.
“Over the last five years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of women training to be auto technicians, but the number still isn’t where we’d like to see it,” says Mark Berardi, an admissions representative for the New England Technical Institute, a private vocational school that trains auto technicians. “There is absolutely a strong demand. Service stations and dealers want to diversify.”
Because there are more and more cars driving up and down the freeways each day, there is a need for mechanics- male and female. Gone are the days when good old dad could look under the hood, smack the carburetor with a wrench and declare the car good as new. Today it’s all about computer diagnostics and technological advancements in the car repair business.
But back to the opportunities for women. In the old days there was a lot of heavy lifting involved and working on cars often required brute strength, but times have changed. Today’s mechanics can wear nail polish and not worry about putting out their backs trying to take off a hubcap. Mechanics have morphed into technicians and almost anyone can learn to be a successful car mechanic.
While sexism still exists in this male-dominated field, Littleton brushes it off.
“Yes, the guys give me a lot of crap and tease me. But after they saw I could hold my own they treated me as an equal,” she said. “But we need more women in this industry. Its fun, interesting and you make good money. It beats sitting at a desk all day typing, that’s for sure.”