When I graduated from high school, my parents insisted that my next step would be a four-year college. I had other plans, though: I wanted to go to trade school to become an automotive technician.
After some heated discussions, my parents and I eventually agreed that I would work at a repair facility while attending community college. Admittedly, at the time, I was far more focused on engines and gearboxes than English and Statistics. Still, it worked out.
Although I now have a bachelor’s degree in Advanced Automotive Systems, I never went to school to become a mechanic—I learned on the job. The second shop I worked at paired me with a super-smart, seasoned technician who showed me the ropes.
But that’s not the route most automotive professionals take. The majority attend a trade school or technical college before working at a repair shop.
If you’re thinking about taking that path, there’s a lot to consider, especially during this pandemic.
Thinking About Going to School to Become an Automotive Technician? First, Consider This.
Attending an Automotive Technology program (and eventually becoming a technician) isn’t for everyone. Like most things in life, choosing to turn wrenches for a living has its pros and cons.
So, before you decide whether to enroll in an automotive training program, let’s discuss some of the negative and positive factors.
The Pros of Choosing to Become an Automotive Technician
Going to a training school—and ultimately becoming a mechanic—has a number of positive aspects, including the following:
It’s easy to find a job (technicians are in demand)
Good automotive technicians are almost guaranteed to find a job. According to an article from Automotive News, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the auto industry will need to add approximately 46,000 technicians by 2026. What’s more, because there’s a nationwide technician shortage, repair facilities are going to have a hard time filling those positions.
Fewer and fewer young people are becoming automotive technicians. At the same time, many older workers are getting out of the business, leaving employers desperate to find new help.
This makes it easier for automotive students to find a job after graduation.
Being a technician involves problem-solving and continuous learning
One thing that’s exciting about being an automotive technician is that you don’t stop learning once you graduate from school. Good techs stay motivated by keeping up with the latest technology and industry trends.
Also, regardless of whether you’re in school or on the job, you’ll be problem-solving on a daily basis. And that helps you stay engaged and creates a sense of accomplishment.
You’ll be doing something you’re passionate about
If you’re considering becoming an automotive technician, you probably love cars. Passion is what prompts most people to get started in the auto industry. The thought of working around engines, tools, and cool cars is alluring for gearheads.
And although some technicians experience burnout after decades of turning wrenches, many would still choose to be a mechanic over having a mundane desk job.
The Cons of Choosing to Become an Automotive Technician
Working as a technician can be difficult, and the path to becoming one isn’t easy. Here are some of the negative aspects of training to become an auto tech:
Being an automotive technician is physically demanding
When I was an automotive technician, I always went home with cuts and bruises. I chose to stop working on cars professionally because it’s too physically demanding.
Busting your knuckles might seem okay in your early 20s, but later in life, you may find yourself wishing for less strenuous work.
Training can be expensive
According to EducationData.org, the average annual cost of a public, four-year college is $21,950 (in-state rate), including room and board. That might seem expensive, but the Automotive program at Lincoln Tech costs more, coming in at $25,164 per year, according to College Tuition Compare.
And what about well-known automotive training campuses, such as Universal Technical Institute (UTI)? Well, UTI isn’t cheap, either. According to Indeed, on average, training at the school costs $30,000 for two years.
In other words—going to school to become an automotive technician isn’t necessarily cheap. Of course, there are automotive technology programs at community and local technical colleges that are more affordable.
Shop around to find the best fit for your budget and lifestyle.
Most technicians don’t make a lot of money
Perhaps the biggest drawback to attending school for automotive technology is that, when you graduate, you won’t be making much money. According to College Tuition Compare, for an auto tech, the average annual income 10 years after graduation is just $38,200.
Sure, some automotive technicians make a six-figure income. But those individuals are few and far between.
Salary.com shows that only 10% of technicians make more than $51,585 annually. Factor in the cost of tools, which you have to buy yourself, and the average earnings end up being even less than the data implies.
Special Considerations During the Pandemic
Earlier this year, in March, schools everywhere shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That left students in all kinds of trade programs, including automotive technology, struggling to finish their coursework online.
Obviously, automotive repair is a subject that’s best taught in-person. Many students and instructors struggled with the virus-imposed virtual format.
This fall, however, the majority of trade schools expect to reopen with strict precautions in place. If you’re planning to attend on-campus training, here’s a few things you’ll want to do:
Check to see what guidelines your school has in place
Most schools that plan to reopen are requiring that everyone wear masks and have their temperature taken upon entry.
Class sizes are also limited.
Practice good hygiene
In addition to wearing your mask, you should wash your hands frequently (for at least 20 seconds) and use hand sanitizer throughout the day. It’s also a good idea to sanitize your car and school supplies regularly.
Make sure your car is in good condition
Public transportation and rideshare options could prove difficult to obtain, depending on the state of the pandemic. Keeping your car in good condition can help ensure you get to school on time.
If you’ve been putting off any repairs, it’s best to take care of them right away. You can shop for any parts you might need here:
Follow Your Dreams
Perhaps the best piece of advice is to follow your dreams. If you love cars, find a way to pursue that passion in some way. Even if you don’t end up working as a technician, you could take a different path in the automotive industry, as I have.
Even though COVID-19 has created some hurdles, there are still plenty of opportunities to be had in the auto industry. Now is the time to start working towards your goals—whatever they may be.