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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Who's driving your future?

By Jack Kazmierski
Special to The Toronto Sun


If you're in high school or college and thinking about career choices, why not consider the auto industry? Wait. Don't squirm yet. I know, you're probably thinking, "I don't want to be a 'grease monkey.'" But before you make up your mind about not being interested, make sure you really understand what's involved here.

The "grease monkey" image of the auto mechanic is passe. Today's automotive technicians (that's what they're called nowadays, by the way) are mechanical, chemical, mathematical and computer-literate wizards. The modern vehicle is so complex and dependent on so many complicated, computer-controlled components, that in order to effectively diagnose problems and fix the underlying problems, technicians must be well-educated and highly-skilled.


"The modern automobile is technologically very advanced," explains Hugh Brennan, president of Brennan's Dixie Chrysler in Brampton. "Today's automotive technicians are highly trained and professional, able not only to fix vehicles, but communicate effectively with customers as well."

Not only is the modern automotive technician highly respected, but with some salaries in the $80,000 range, he, or she, is also well paid.

And the news gets even better: statistics show that a large number of workers in the auto industry are at, or near, retirement age, meaning a need for fresh talent is on the rise.

"The opportunities for earnings are substantial," Brennan notes. "In the old days, it was the salesman at the dealership who made the money.

Nowadays, at some dealerships, it's the technician who's making the big bucks." The image problem the auto industry has inherited from previous generations, as well as competition from more glamorous career options in the computer and high-tech industries, for example, has also contributed to the need for workers in a variety of automotive professions.

And even if you're not a hands-on type of person who enjoys working on cars, the auto industry offers a wide variety of technical and non-technical professions.

How many auto-related careers can you think of? If a recent study conducted by the Canadian Automotive Repair and Service council is any indication, chances are you'll probably think of three or four, tops: The auto mechanic, the service manager and the collision repairperson -- the people you most often interact with when dropping off a vehicle for service.
BRIGHT FUTURE FOR TECHNICIANS
The most difficult position to fill today in the auto industry is automotive technician. Farid Ahmad, president of the B&L group of companies, the largest recruiter of automotive personnel for the retail automotive sector in Canada, explains why. "The average age in North America for an experienced Class A technician is in the 50s. What's happening today is that the younger people who would previously have looked at the automotive industry as a career -- following in their fathers' foot steps -- has found cleaner environments in which to work, i.e. the computer industry. "Proof of this is the fact that Seneca College, last year, had to cancel one of its automotive technician courses because there weren't enough enrollees in the program -- and that was a first for Seneca. "The career opportunities for automotive technicians today is fabulous, and it's only going to get better because there aren't enough people starting their apprentice program now. "In about four years from now, it's going to be the best paying job at a dealership."


Frankly, that's only a drop in the bucket, when compared to the actual number of careers in the automotive field. CARS, a not-for-profit organization established to serve the human resource and training needs of the Canadian car and truck repair and service industry, recently distributed a comprehensive career information kit to all high schools, and some middle schools, across Canada. The kit lists more than 45 occupations in the auto industry.

"In general, parents, teachers and students really don't see the breadth of the automotive industry," explains Jennifer Steeves, project co-ordinator, CARS. "So that's what we are trying to do here by going through 45 different technical and non-technical careers."

Here are a few car-related occupations you may not have thought of: office manager, call centre staff, computer specialist and database management personnel, multimedia installation technician, automotive electronic accessory technician, truck and transport mechanic, tow truck driver, engine rebuilder, and my personal favourite, automotive journalist.

Opportunities exist in automotive dealerships, independent garages, parts manufacturers, parts distributors and more. And for those with an entrepreneurial leaning, opening your own garage or related business is also a possibility.

If you're interested in exploring the possibilities, and if you're still in school, ask your guidance counsellor to see CARS' career information kit, The Future is Wide Open. The kit is designed to help young people, primarily in grades 8 and 9, better understand what a career in the automotive industry is like.

The skills you will need to develop and the educational requirements (university or college, etc.) are all spelled out for you, and each career profile includes an interview with someone in that occupation to give students a "day-in-the-life" understanding.

For more information, CARS also has information on its Web site, www.carsyouth.ca.

(Jack Kazmierski (jkazmierski1@cogeco.ca) is a Toronto-based freelance writer and editor.)



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