works at BJ's Automotive Diagnostic Center
How long have you worked as an Auto Technician?
Meg has worked as an auto technician for 16 yrs. She was introduced to wrenching at an early age by her dad. “He always had an old car he was working on, and it was fun to hand him tools and help.” When she was 14 years old, she got her first project vehicle, a 1979 dodge pickup truck. “Unfortunately, at the time, I didn't realize it had a broken frame. But I was able to tear stuff apart on my own and figure out how carburetors work. So, when the opportunity came that I could go to the automotive program in high school, I jumped at it.”
Did you attend Trade School?
Meg attended Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor Maine and studied Automotive Technology. With the help of one of her high school automotive instructors she received enough scholarships to pay for the entire second semester of school and to pay for the tools needed for her classes.
This same instructor was a great mentor to Meg. “I didn't have a lot of support from family members, and I even had a college instructor who told me to my face that I wasn't going to be a good mechanic. So, it was very nice to have him in my corner, and he still is almost twenty years later.”
Did trade school prepare you for working in the real world?
Meg found that trade-school was good for being more in-depth in electrical and was better at exposing her to more real-world problems than shop classes in high school. “But I honestly had a really hard time transitioning into working into an actual shop.”
Meg’s first job was at Walmart. “Working here was no big deal. Changing oil, changing tires, testing batteries are as entry level as you get.”
After graduating from school Meg was hired at an independent shop as an entry level tech. After a short time, she was given more in-depth jobs that she had never come across or experienced before. “When I asked my boss questions, I was met with disgust and was told I was just going to have to figure it out. Thankfully the other senior techs supported me the best they could while still getting their own work done.”
Meg took a hiatus from working as a tech when she was pregnant with her daughter. When she was ready to work again, she found that she would make it to the interview stage, but then would never get any call backs. She was told multiple times ‘I just don't think you're going to work out here.’ Meg became very frustrated. “BJ's Automotive was seriously the last place that I was going to apply to before completely giving up and trying a different career path.”
“I’ve been working here for fourteen years, and I absolutely love it. I wouldn't have changed it for the world. My boss has been an absolute great mentor, giving me the opportunity to start from the ground up. I started there literally as an apprentice technician and am now the lead tech and general manager.” Meg and her boss have a long-term goal that she will take over owning the shop when he retires.
Please talk about work life balance being a mom with two kids
“It was extremely Challenging. I had my son while I was finishing up my first year of college while I was on winter break. My instructor joked that I planned it that way so that I wouldn’t miss any classes. When I got pregnant with my daughter I stopped working for a while.”
One of her biggest challenges was daycare. “I had to decide whether it was worth working to just hand over three-quarters of my paycheck to childcare. And if the kids get sick, more often than not the woman stays home from work and for a lot of people that may not be an option.”
Meg feels that women who choose any career path while balancing a family life will find that it comes with its own set of responsibilities and challenges as well as a lot of hard work and personal sacrifice. “Having a back-up support system in place is so crucial and important because otherwise you literally will get burned out.”
Meg’s kids are now fifteen and sixteen and are both super supportive of her career. Her son has come to the shop to help out when needed, is interested in welding and has just started to learn how to drive.
Best piece of advice a mentor or instructor ever gave you?
Meg was not able to pinpoint one specific thing said or one action taken. She talked about all the times her instructor told her “You can do this” and her boss taking the time to show her things and telling her to “slow down, take a deep breath, you know how this works – so what’s the first step.” She talked about how without those two she would have had a much more difficult time in her career.
What makes a good shop to work at?
Meg talked a lot about having a good team that works together and a pay plan that supports this. “Crews that get along together are naturally going to support each other and people are willing to help each other without having to worry about being set back on a job and losing money because of the ten minutes helping someone else.” Without this support it can become a very dog-eat-dog environment.
Has your shop experienced a technician shortage?
“Oh my gosh, it's crazy. We are not in a big town so finding someone with even the basic skills has been hard.” Meg created an apprenticeship program to help grow their technicians. They take kids from high school and train them from the bottom up giving them hands-on experience that they may not necessarily get in the classroom. “We've been really excited about it. We've had several kids go through with it. Some stay in the automotive world and others decide it’s not for them but are grateful for the experience. We have an apprentice that is about to complete his first year with us and I'm very happy with his progress.”
What ASE Certifications do you have?
Meg has completed all the certifications to be an ASE Master Technician. She is now working on completing the L1: Advanced Engine Performance Certification.
Do you feel ASE Certifications are important to have and maintain?
Meg considers herself a goal-oriented person. For her, ASE Certifications gave her a kind of structure to grow from. With each new certificate she felt a growing sense of pride in her chosen career. “I remember when I got my first ASE certification and was like, WOW I did this.” Since ASE Certifications are universally recognized symbols of a technician who knows their stuff Meg feels that it adds a little bit of reassurance for people who are already kind of nervous or leery about having a woman work on their vehicle.
What do you enjoy most about being an Automotive Technician?
“My dad used to call me Tinkerbell when I was young because I liked to Tinker on things and fix things and try to make them better.” After any emergency repair, Meg still gets a sense of accomplishment knowing she made a difference. “Car comes in with the check engine light flashing and it only took a set of plugs and a coil for the customer to continue their trip with their family, it still feels good.”
What are the top 3 challenges you face being an automotive technician?
- Keeping up with new technology: Meg feels the number one problem is keeping up with new technology, especially for independent shops. Shops need to stay up-to-date with training and diagnostic software, but then Independent shops don’t always get the service information needed to do the repair.”
- Physical strength can be a challenge: Meg says she is not a very muscular person. Over the years, she has to come up with various ways to break a stuck bolt free or get herself into a position where she can use leverage. She has a variety of different sized pipes in her toolbox as part of her arsenal and is well versed in using torches. “But sometimes at the end of the day, you just need a second person to come over and help you.”
- YouTube: There is good information and a lot of bad information on YouTube. This can make it frustrating when customers watch a video and come in with a of their car's problem and tell you that “The guy on the video fixed it in 20 minutes with a butter knife.” This can create a lot of unrealistic expectations.
What advice do you have for a female thinking working in the automotive repair industry?
Meg feels you need to develop a thick skin and develop confidence in yourself. “The automotive world tends to destroy newbies entering the field. That is one reason we are having a technician shortage. As an industry we should help growing technicians rather than making them feel bad, so they leave the industry. It's very easy to get discouraged and to throw in the towel and walk away. When in those situations take a few seconds, take a deep breath. If you need to cry, go somewhere where nobody can see you and then come back.”
What is your dream car?
“The Tesla S - it’s so awesome.” Meg has a couple of customers that drive different models of Tesla. She considers herself a techie nerd and geeks out when they come into the shop. “I absolutely love their technical standpoint. I honestly think we're going to see a lot more of our vehicles go in that direction.”
What are your words of wisdom for a new auto technician who is discouraged?
This is a very challenging field, both physically and mentally. There are going to be days that you go home and wonder why you ever decide to be an automotive technician. It is very easy to get discouraged and give up. But, if this is something that you truly love to do, don't give up. Take a couple steps back, take a deep breath and keep trying.
Do you feel that continuing education is important for technicians?
“Absolutely, investing in yourself shows that you take pride in not only yourself but also your chosen career path.”
How do you see your job or this industry changing in the next 10 years?
I think we're going to see a lot more technology-based repairs like computers and more electronic issues. The things that they're doing over in Europe with electronic steering and braking where you need a scan tool to change brakes is helping shift more towards diagnostic and technology-based repairs rather than just changing parts. You're still going to have those jobs, but they are becoming less and less.”
Anything else you think ASE should understand about the wants and needs of auto technicians?
I absolutely love the renewal app. I was part of the beta group that they were testing it on. Maine is very rural, and it is a two-hour drive to and from the nearest testing facility. Renewing my certifications online through an app on my phone is huge.
I'm on the recertification board for the tech school that is in the county that my shop is located in. And we're going to be going through the certification process with them again in the springtime. But it always seems like the instructors treat it more of a hindrance. I'm not thrilled with the Cox Automotive instructor that they have. So, it really needs to be on a more personal level with this particular instructor rather than the Nationwide thing. It's just the only thing I see unfortunately.
When I first started at my shop, the owner didn't put any merit or value in ASE certification. I was able to get him to the point that he recognizes the value of ASE certifications and is now on board with me. We are working on being a blue seal shop, but I think there's still a few things that we need to do before that would happen. It’s been a slow process.