I'm guilty of referring to Techs as Mechanics still. It kind of stuck with me growing up and I've chronicled this in the past. The common reason that I hear that Techs don't want to be referred to as Mechanics is because many Techs primary focus is no longer centered around mechanical work. Rather, they are Technicians because much of it is more electronic diagnostic than rebuilding engines these days. Regardless of argument, I'm here to discuss your vision of what you're going to do after you put your toolbox away.
One of the beautiful things about being a Tech is the foundational skills you learn by learning a trade. Great Mechanics (ok, Techs) understand how things work. At some level, trying to figure out how to diagnose an electrical issue teaches you how to think through problems like nothing else can. It will teach you patience and about a dozen new cuss words but it will teach you things you can't learn elsewhere. Now, what if we were to pair this up with formal education?
I was a terrible student in High School. I constantly questioned why I needed to know anything about algebra or chemistry. Hell, I was going to be a Tech at my Dad's shop forever! Except, I wasn't. I was there for one year. What I wish somebody had told me back then was not to focus on the subject itself but instead focus on thinking through problems. Learn critical thinking and learn to not give up on a problem too soon. Instead, I'd throw my hands up and tell myself, "I won't need this stuff anyway".
In some cases, I was actually right. There were classes and subjects that had no impact on me whatsoever. While I'm guessing the point was to make me more well rounded as an individual, I wasn't mature enough to understand that. I mean, why in the hell did I take two years of Spanish, yet I only know about five actual words. Doesn't seem like the greatest place to spend time in my eyes.
The funny part was that the very same thing that made me a bad student, turned out to make me a bad Tech. Whenever I faced a difficult problem, whether it was diagnostics or mechanical, I would simply throw my hands in the air and go get the Service Manager. It took me many, many years to understand that the lessons that I should have been taking home from school weren't about the subject themselves but around figuring out how to critically think through problems.
Lots of you are probably the exact opposite of me. Maybe you were also bad at school but were good at critically thinking through a problem fixing your Dad's lawnmower. There are people that mechanical things just make more sense to. Or maybe you were one of the lucky people that was really good at both! I feel like there are far more kids that are good at school and want to pursue a trade than we think. Yet, so many Mechanics are similar to me. Learning best by observing others and tearing into things themselves.
Too many times our industry paints a picture that your path into the shop never leads back out of it. In reality, it couldn't be further from the truth. As hard as it is to find good Mechanics these days, it might be even harder to find a good Manager that has a technical background and that is good at customer service or selling. Well, why is that?
In my opinion, it's because we haven't taken a proactive approach at helping develop soft skills in young Technicians. And when we do, whether from a corporate or store level, we can face resistance from Techs because of that relationship that young Techs had developed with educators from an early age. In my case, I had a chip on my shoulder from getting the impression that Teachers didn't think I was going to amount to much (in all fairness, I probably gave them every reason to think that way). In fact, I still carry that chip on my shoulder today!
Regardless, lots of us in the service repair industry are kind of a different breed and I think it has a lot to do with many of you having similar upbringings to mine. It creates some type of rebellion toward education. In some cases I think it is warranted but we need a paradigm shift on education from the Technician standpoint. This isn't in all cases by any means but enough cases that I felt the need to bring this up.
I'll be the first to admit that I have had a drastic shift in the way that I view education and self development. I'm exactly the opposite of the person that I was in school, although I still can't sit still for the life of me. As I look back at my own education, I look at the lessons that I wish I would have taken from school.
How helpful would an accounting class have been in High School had I been interested in it. What if I said to myself, "Not only will this help me if I get into Management someday, it could really help me with my personal finances as well". I can't help but think the mindset alone could have changed my trajectory a little bit.
So, why do I bring this up? I do this because I think of myself at 17 years old and I had no desire to go to school. I just wanted to work on cars and be around the shop because that's what I loved doing. If only I could go back and tell myself that there is so much more out there than "just being a Mechanic". What if I would have known how much having a technical background would help me in so many other areas of my life?
My message to young people is that there is nothing wrong with being a Mechanic. From my experience, it drives so much more than that and lays the foundation for you to pursue your dreams. Interested in entrepreneurship? There are a pile of shops that are owned by Baby Boomers looking to retire but don't have a succession plan. Interested in Management? Start learning soft skills because there is a huge need for management level people as well. What if you just love being in the shop and work with your hands but don't like what you hear the salaries for career Techs will bring? I'm here to tell you that the industry is shifting so incredibly fast right now that there will be plenty of opportunities to specialize in something that will make you a lot of money. It may not happen tomorrow but it's not too far off in the distance.
I truly hope that young people will read this article that I've written because it's one that I wish I would have been able to read when I was a kid. There are so many opportunities for those of you out there who work to develop skills, look at education in a positive light and understand the opportunities that will be in front of you if you treat yourself as a developing professional.
My only wish is that I'll be there to help you along the way.