Pop the hood on any late-model car, and you're likely to be struck by just how far automotive engineering has come in the hundred years since Henry Ford put the Model T into production. Get behind the wheel and you might find any number of technological innovations at your fingertips, from advanced navigation controls and computer controlled collision avoidance systems, to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities. And that's just scratching the surface. The automobile may still be America's preferred method of getting from one place to another conveniently and affordably. But, there's a whole lot more than just internal combustion going on underneath the hood on that journey between point A and point B. And, it takes quite a bit more training and skill to maintain and repair today's more technologically advanced automobiles. As a 2013 Harvard Business Review story on the pace of technology noted in a quote by an automobile industry trade consultant, "Today, a typical automotive design cycle is approximately 24 to 36 months, which is must faster than the 60-month life cycle from five years ago."
And, much much faster than it was back in 1972, when the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) was a established to monitor the state of the art in vehicle maintenance and repair and maintain the highest, most up-to-date standards in the training of automotive technicians and mechanics. A nationally recognized, independent, non-profit organization, the ASE conducts certification testing in all 50 states. This certification, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics emphasizes, "is the standard credential for service technicians." It's not uncommon for employers to require ASE certification, and well-informed consumers tend to look for the ASE seal of approval. The BLS report on automotive service technicians and mechanics goes on to note that, "Certification demonstrates competence and usually brings higher pay."
The route certification: Benefits of an NATEF certified training program
A high school diploma is technically the only real requirement for a person looking to work at an entry-level position in an auto shop. The BLS does recommend high school coursework in automotive repair, electronics, computers and mathematics for those looking to enter the field, noting that communication skills are also important because dealing with customer is part of the job. But, servicing today's cars involves more than just changing the oil and rotating the tires. For example, sophisticated computerized diagnostic tests are often run by mechanics before anyone even begins to reach for their toolbox.
So, while high school can help create a solid educational grounding for a career as an automotive mechanic, enrolling in a postsecondary program offered by vocational and technical schools, as well as at community colleges, is generally regarded as the best preparation for not only the best jobs, but even for entry-level positions. These programs usually include a mix of classroom instruction and hands-on shop training, and can run from six months to a year in length. There are also more intensive associate degree programs available, which involve more work on the management and customer-service aspects of the job.
In 1983, the ASE created the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF), an organization that monitors, evaluates, and provides voluntary accreditation for automotive technician programs, from high school on up through vocational schools and community colleges. NATEF certification is designed to insure that students come through these programs adequately prepared to successfully enter the field as a certified automotive technician/mechanic.
ASE testing is currently offered in nine separate specialized areas:
- Engine repair
- Automatic transmission/transaxle
- Manual drive train and axles
- Suspension and steering
- Electrical and electronic systems
- Engine performance
- Light vehicle diesel engine
- Heating and air conditioning
It's important to note, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the ASE point out, that special licensing in the handling of refrigerants is required for anyone working with automotive heating and air conditioning systems.
Prior to taking any one of the exams, candidates are required to have two years of experience in the field, which usually includes one year of schooling. After passing the exam, a student becomes a certified automobile technician in that area. Students who are able to pass all of the exams can become what's known in the field as a Master Automobile Technician. In addition, the ASE has tests in over forty areas of further specialization, including collision repair, advanced engine performance and compressed natural gas engines. The ASE does requires its mechanics to take an exam every five years as part of its Continuing Automotive Service Education initiative. This ensures that certified mechanics are up to date on the latest technological advancements and innovations in automotive maintenance and repair.
On the job: Career outlook for ASE Certified Automotive Technicians/Mechanics
The BLS is projecting that employment in the automotive service technicians and mechanics sector will grow at an average rate of 9 percent from 2012 through 2022. The national average hourly wage in the field was just under $19 as of May, 2013, and the national average annual salary was $39,450. However, the benefits of ASE certification through a NATEF accredited training program are clear: The top 90 percentile of automotive service technicians and mechanics in 2013 earned over $60,000. The top earners generally, though not always, tend to be the best trained. And ASE certification could be a solid way to prove to potential employers you've had the proper training.
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See also Collision repair / auto body refinishing schools
Disclaimer: This site is not associated in any way with the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation and is not maintained by them.
Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes493023.htm
Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/installation-maintenance-and-repair/automotive-service-technicians-and-mechanics.htm