As a fixed operations trainer working with service advisors, technicians and parts department employees, I've seen more and more women donning the coveralls and smocks and working in service departments.
In many dealerships you might see them at first working as tire jockeys, lube techs, wash bay personnel or car porters. That may seem lowly. But it is a good start, and the course many male technicians took to becoming some of the top journeymen mechanics in the industry.
It takes a brave woman to make it through the ranks to be a full-fledged journeyman technician. I spoke to one of them about the trials and tribulations of making a career as a dealership technician. She's a veteran now.
She is Debbie Wilson, who has been working at Festival Ford in Red Deer, AL, Canada, for 15 years as a general technician. She's a standout performer with some of her department's highest percentages for “fixed right on first visit.”
We spoke about challenges she faced in the early days.
“One of the biggest original hurdles was getting the service manager to take me seriously,” Wilson says. “He at first felt the work was too physically demanding, especially at Festival where about four of five vehicles serviced are pickup trucks.”
Wilson allayed his apprehensions by lugging off as many wheels as the next technicians and staying off the injury list.
The next challenge she faced was at the training college where she was only one of two women registered in the automotive technology program.
“There were some biases by the fellow students and also by the teacher,” she says. She dispelled that challenge by doing remarkably well on her exams.
The next challenge she faced was in the shop where some of the other technicians didn't want her to succeed and didn't want a female in their man's world.
She would be subjected to comments ranging from wisecracks to claims that she was cutting into their livelihood as providers of families.
“My response to that one was quite easy,” she says. “I told them: ‘What about my rights to earn a living and support a family?’”
She found it helpful to build rapport with one or two more open-minded technicians and to not be afraid to do your share of unpleasant jobs as part of a team player.
Despite his original misgivings, the dealership service manager supported Wilson and her dream of becoming a top-notch technician.
Festival Ford's current service manager, Dave Turnbull, says she is one of his most valued employees.
Wilson offers this advice for women following in her footsteps.
“Don't take things too personally.”
There may be negative comments from staff, customers and even friends who wonder about your career choice.
Ignore them, she says. If I had listened to some people, I wouldn't be in this business and loving it as much as I am.”
Dave Skrobot is a fixed operations trainer with Automotive Sales College and the other of a book, “Sales Meeting Companion.” He is at [email protected].