Statistics show that women make up somewhere between just one and two percent of all service technicians in the U.S. There are several reasons why the number is low, but given the growing demand for techs – and the fact that the job is widely considered a good one – there’s a big opportunity for more women to enter the field and help dealerships meet the demand.
Plus, there’s just no good reason why more females aren’t working as service techs, says Craig Lockerd, CEO of AutoMax, a dealership training and recruitment company.
“It’s ridiculous that the number of female techs is so low,” Craig says. “Somewhere around 77 percent of people who bring their car into the dealership for service are female. And a lot of women, and men, prefer working with a woman regarding their car – they feel like they can trust them more.”
That’s how Patrice Banks felt. Patrice is one of the leaders clearing a path for women in the industry. Years before she opened Girls Auto Clinic repair center in Philadelphia, she went looking specifically for a female tech, and couldn’t find even one.
That sparked a desire to become a service technician herself. At 31, and making six figures as an engineer, Patrice enrolled in night classes at a technical school – “the only girl with a bunch of boys, 19-year-old boys.” It wasn’t long before she left her successful career to work in garages and gain experience.
Patrice now trains women on basic car knowledge and hires only female techs at her repair center.
“Women are amazing technicians, and they deserve the opportunity to do what they love to do and make the contribution they want to in the world,” she says. “Diversity benefits any workplace. It provides opportunities to see problems differently and can help dealerships relate to their customers and understand them and their needs differently.”
The timing for more women to enter the field couldn’t be better: Late last year, The TechForce Foundation released a report that showed the demand for new vehicle techs from 2016 to 2026 to be three times higher than was previously projected for the 2014 to 2024 period.
Obstacles to seeing more women as service techs include the fact that it’s often seen as a “man’s job” and that most women are unaware of the job’s many perks, including good pay, short schooling with programs that can leave graduates free of student debt, and reasonable hours.
Craig believes that if more women knew how good the job is, they’d be more interested in pursuing it as a career path. Of the 100 viable applicants he and his team recently received for nine dealerships they’re recruiting for, just one was from a female tech with experience.
Another obstacle to seeing more women as techs is the old-school sexism that’s still at play at many dealerships (“Nobody wants to talk about it, but it is a reality,” Craig says).
Case in point, when Craig recently joined a Facebook group of some 13,000 techs who help each other with work-related questions, his welcome was anything but warm.
“When I introduced myself to the group, it was like I was walking into a maximum-security prison,” he says, referencing the language used by the male-dominated group. “It was a brutal welcome. Beyond crude. It was gross. Imagine how it would be for a 25-year-old woman.”
Craig says his three options were to ignore the rudeness, address the rudeness, or fight fire with fire. He sensed that if he went for the third option, matching their crassness, he would be embraced with open arms. He was right.
And though uncommon, Craig says it’s not that unusual for dealerships to immediately dismiss female sales and service applicants, saying they “don’t want any lawsuits.” This despite the fact that statistics show women sell more cars on average than men do.
Certification for low-grade techs requires just one year of schooling, with more advanced tech certification taking another year or so. Even low-grade techs can expect to make about $45,000 to $50,000 out of school. In addition, good techs are so in demand that many dealerships now offer to pay back student debt for their new techs. A perk, for sure, when the average student debt is $32,000.
Top-level techs who have earned master mechanic status and have five years of experience can earn $100,000 a year, according to reporting by The New York Times last year.
Some women might have been turned off by the physical/mechanical aspect of the work, but it has become vastly more technical and software-based in nature, reflected in the job’s changing title: mechanic to technician. Plus, the hours are reasonable, with most dealers paying on a flat-rate basis, where the tech is paid for eight hours of work even if she completes the work in four or five hours.
“It’s a real problem, and obviously it’s not with the women. It’s with the dealership and the team,” he says.
Patrice agrees that sexism can be an obstacle.
“In some cases, women might face discrimination at hiring, or they may get hired and face discrimination in the workplace,” she says. “It could be an unsafe work environment, or it could be that she isn’t mentored and trained as much as her male counterparts, so isn’t advancing in her career and gaining the same experience.”
Paving the Way for Success
With support coming from players inside the industry – like Craig and Patrice – the outlook is beginning to change for female service techs. Opportunities are increasing as dealerships are recognizing the specific value of female techs, and more people are spreading the word about great job opportunities.
“I think we need to work to get more women into [training], but also be sure we are supporting them once they are in the field,” Patrice says.
Finding a mentor who believes in you, who understands the challenges you face, and who will help you succeed is essential, she adds. “Ladies, we are so capable. More than we know. [Our] emotional strength, softness, cleverness are needed. Believe and know that it is for you and you can do it.”
Craig often posts job opportunities that might be more appealing to female techs – like those being offered by female-owned dealerships – on LinkedIn and other social outlets.
One dealership that has been particularly interested in Craig’s female techs is Team Auto Group, a Chevrolet-Buick-GMC-Cadillac dealership in Salisbury, N.C., where dealership partner Kristin Dillard is acting as another agent of change for women in the field. Craig says Kristin asks for all the female applicants he can provide.
And she’s not the only one. More good news from Craig: “If I had 1,000 female techs available right now, I could place them in 30 days.”